Herefordshire shoots itself in the foot

Herefordshire Council is a highway authority with problems.  In fact it has the fourth most rights-of-way problems awaiting resolution of all the English councils: 5,767 on its 2,135 miles—nearly three per mile, according to the Ramblers’ report Paths in Crisis, published last November.

You would have thought that the council, with paths in a poor state and a tight budget, would jump at the opportunity of free help with clearing paths.  This is what the Herefordshire Ramblers have offered—and it has been rejected.

Until recently the council contracted its rights-of-way work to Amey which supported a team of volunteers, made up of Ramblers and parish council path-wardens.  They built bridges, strimmed paths, put in waymarks and erected gates (where needed).  Led by the indefatigable Arthur Lee, chairman of Herefordshire Ramblers, the group made a real difference to the state of the county’s paths.

Arthur Lee and the new kissing-gate on the Herefordshire Trail at Bosbury.

Arthur Lee and the new kissing-gate on the Herefordshire Trail at Bosbury.

Then in September last year the rights-of-way contract was taken from Amey and given to Balfour Beatty, the international infrastructure group.  The volunteering had to stop while the new arrangements were sorted.  But there has been no progress and last week Arthur met Balfour Beatty Living Places (as it calls itself) to discuss practical path-work.  He reports that, following the meeting, they are no further forward.

Bridge built by volunteers on the Herefordshire Trail at Bosbury.

Bridge built by volunteers on the Herefordshire Trail at Bosbury.

Amazingly, BBLP is making a fuss about ‘breaking ground’, ie digging holes!  Its own rights-of-way team of two has to fill in a vast amount of paperwork in order to dig a hole; they must be issued with protective clothing, including flameproof overalls, and must use a scanner to search for underground cables or services.  You’d have thought BBLP did this all the time.  But Arthur says that BBLP has no experience of public paths and there is no system for reporting rights-of-way problems to BBLP.

What has been lost.  Ledbury Reporter 24 May 2013.

What has been lost. Ledbury Reporter 24 May 2013.

Meanwhile, at the Ramblers’ AGM last November I launched the Area’s excellent campaign Walk Herefordshire.  The aim of the project is to get Herefordshire’s paths in good order.  The Ramblers are inviting people to volunteer; they are issued with a map for their chosen patch and asked to walk the paths and record the problems.  These are collated by the Area and sent to the council.  (Anyone wishing to take part should email Tom Fisher at tomfisher52@gmail.com.)

Already, in only two months, the project has generated 200 reports, many of which could be tackled by the volunteer team which is on hold.  Instead, the reports will pile up, the paths will deteroriate and this beautiful county will lose out.  The council is literally shooting itself in the foot.

Lobby
Of course we mustn’t let this happen. The Area will lobby councillors and MPs if necessary. There is another campaign to be run here.

Whatever BBLP does or doesn’t do, the council remains legally responsible for the state of the network.  It may yet find itself in court for failing to carry out its statutory duties.

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About campaignerkate

I am the general secretary of the Open Spaces Society and I campaign for public access, paths and open spaces in town and country.
This entry was posted in campaigns, Obstructed path, Public paths, Ramblers, walking and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Herefordshire shoots itself in the foot

  1. Chris B says:

    My county is being told to look at subcontracting. That is a very bad idea, not only does the subcontractor have no statutory path duties, but with the exception of the occasional willing employee on the ground, it is much harder to get action in line with highway law since they will rarely be properly trained in it.
    As to volunteers, personally though I was chairman of a volunteer group who were pioneers for P3, the Parish Path Partnership, I always felt ambivalent about doing maintenance work, much better to do repairs (with the opportunity for improvement) and genuine improvements eg stile to Gap or to kissing gate. After all we wouldn’t consider volunteers mending our main roads would we?
    As an aside, I am sure it is inadvertent, but the nice new kissing gate does not comply with BS5709. Why do so many voluntary groups and highway authorities not understand standards? BS5709 does not define structure’s details just their functional requirements, so it is not a serious restraint.. ,

  2. Chris B says:

    a p.s. (can’t find an edit function). I somewhat confused maintenance with enforcement. Busy day..

  3. Reblogged this on Over The Hills and commented:
    What a mess this is!

  4. I live in Fownhope, Herefordshire. As a former parish clerk and counicllor I gro….an at this news. The parish council here has an excellent record of footpath maintenance.

  5. Peter Newman says:

    The County relies on the walking public as tourists for much needed income evey year, both as indiviuals walking the many paths or LD paths which pass through the County and attending the growing number of Walking festivals. The Kington Footpath Scheme working as volunteers and in partnership with the Hereford Probation Office has opened up and maintained the paths in north west Herefordshire for over 20 years and saved many tens of thousands of pounds for the Local Authority. Volunteers will be needed more and more across the country as Local Council budgets are cut further. Why is Balfour Beatty not rushing to grasp this offer of expert help from ramberlers, after all who know the paths, the probelms and the solutions better than the people who use them ?

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