The statutory duty must be done

A fortnight ago I joined other path-user representatives at a meeting with Bucks County Councillors to express our concerns about the threat to the county council’s rights-of-way budget and the transfer of part of the team to Ringway Jacobs (see previous blog).  Of course we also emphasised the importance of investing in the public-path network. 

As Chris B commented on my blog about Herefordshire Council, subcontracting is a bad idea, because not only does the subcontractor have no statutory path-duties, but it will probably not have the training to do good work on the ground.  I am somewhat reassured that it is the Bucks County Council rights-of-way staff, led by the excellent Joanne Taylor, who have been transferred to Ringway Jacobs, so we still have their expertise and their care for the work.  However, this could all too easily change as people move on and budgets are slashed still further.

Footpath near Prestwood.

Footpath near Prestwood

Lamentably, in this process, we have lost the assiduous, long-standing manager Mike Walker who transformed the path network and was firm with landowners and others who wanted to mess around with it.  Sadly, too, the path team has been split, so that staff working on the definitive map, Simply Walk (health walks), planning and the local access forum remain with the county council.  Everyone should have been kept together, preferably with the council.

We asked for the meeting last September and at last, in January, we met Councillors Janet Blake, cabinet member for planning and transportation (and the RJ contract), and Dev Dhillon, chairman of the rights-of-way committee.  The Ramblers, Open Spaces Society, British Horse Society, Chiltern Society and Cyclists’ Touring Club were represented.  The BHS presented a useful report which showed that recreational horse-riding brings £57 million a year to the county’s economy, thus illustrating the value of the bridleway network.

Photo courtesy Red Barn Farm, Marlow, Bucks.

Photo courtesy Red Barn Farm, Marlow, Bucks

The best moment was when Janet Blake said of the council’s legal duty to protect rights of way: ‘It’s incumbent upon us, it is a legal responsibility and it must be done.’  Absolutely true, and we shall hold her to that.  

However, the reduction in budget means that the summer clearances will be stopped.  Some money will be given to parish councils to do path work, similar to the old parish paths partnership (P3) scheme, but this will of course be patchy.  We were told the team will focus on enforcement, which is good provided it means that notices are served on landowners who fail to follow path law—and that Bucks takes them to court if they don’t comply.

Well-kept path, Ibstone, Bucks.

Well-kept path, Ibstone, Bucks

It was a helpful meeting, and there is scope for working together—Bucks is much more positive than Herefordshire in this respect.  It will be important to report path-problems and keep track of how quickly they are resolved.  The staff will as always do their best but we must keep Mrs Blake to her word.  The statutory duty must be done.


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 Bucks, Public paths, riding, walking and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The statutory duty must be done

  1. Geoff Mullett says:

    These Local Authority cuts are becoming a real threat to our footpath network. In Lincolnshire, maintenance has been contracted to Balfour Beatty. They presumably do their best, but are constrained by the Council’s requirements. Last year they were instructed to do two cuts of grass along paths and around stiles, instead of the usual three. They have complained that it takes them longer to do two difficult cuts than it would to cut more frequently.
    Many routes away from the popular Wolds area have been neglected for some years and now RoWs have been given priority from 1 to 4, anything on a 3 or 4 list will never receive attention. A couple of years back I identified over 100 problems in just a handful of parishes near the coast. Now the RoW Department for the responsible Council, East Lindsey, have stopped replying to my communications. Very frustrating!

    • Bob Coles President of Northamptonshire Ramblers says:

      I fear that we are in danger of being unable to reverse these threats,which from what I read,hear on Radio and see in the press and on television.Having been a committed campaigner and at the same time prepared to do my bit in a practical way,over the many
      years since the first Parliamentry Act of 1949 gave the many hundreds of thousands of us cause to celebrate the protection of and the permanent right to walk the footpaths, bridleways and byways which many generations earlier had used without let or hindrance.
      I am sure that Geoff Mullett’s experiences can be repeated throughout OUR green and pleasant land. Geoff, the Priority System you refer to has been tried a number of years ago and it failed because organisations such as The Ramblers Association and The Open Spaces Society were able to quote the Laws and most Authoritys’ respected
      the Law, when pressed. Today that failure to pay respect to the law of Parliament is becoming widespread where Rights of Way are concerned.
      Finally I have to say, to you Geoff would it have been better had you been able to get 50 like minded people to send 2 of those footpaths each rather than sending all one hundred yourself.? Geoff, I feel for you, but if colleagues will not stand up to be counted Is that our dilemma ? Bob Coles

  2. rwakeford says:

    GLAD to see walkers, cyclists and horse riders working together. Important to make the rights of way network work for all.

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