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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.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.
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.