The 184-mile Thames Path National Trail follows the river from source to sea. Well almost. There are still places where it is forced away from the river onto busy roads.
One of these is a short gap which, due to the intransigence of Windsor and Maidenhead Borough Council, is proving a real struggle to resolve. This stretch is right in the heart of Maidenhead. The path follows the river southwards (downstream) until it comes to a boarded fence, close to Maidenhead Bridge.
Here it does a dog leg away from the river on a route with no legal status, and then another dog leg onto footpath 53 beside the busy A4094 Ray Mead Road. This footpath is invariably obstructed with parked cars, forcing walkers onto the road which carries heavy traffic. It is unpleasant and dangerous for users, especially those with children and buggies—and this is an internationally-important national trail.
The gap in the riverside route is a mere 29 metres. The path should run in front of a row of five houses, Bridge View. These consist of offices and small businesses with accommodation above. Some are empty. The path is barely visible from the second storey. In fact the route need cause very little trouble to anyone.
Unfortunately the council seems to be giving undue weight to these private interests. It should make a path creation order for the riverside route, with compensation to the occupiers for any loss of amenity. The benefits to the public of this missing link would be massive, heavily outweighing the effect on private interests.
The campaign for this stretch of path has been running for years. In March, it seemed that we were making progress, the council’s rights of way panel unanimously agreed to pursue the riverside route. Two months later it backtracked and decided to support a route beside the A4094 instead.
Of course there is no route by the A4094. To make such a path the council will need to knock down the walls between the properties and the road.
The new path would be closer to the fronts of the properties than the riverside route would be to their backs. If ‘privacy and security’ are a concern on the riverside route they should equally be a concern on the roadside one.
And the roadside route will still be highly unpleasant, especially when large vehicles go by.
But the roadside plan depends on finding alternative parking for the occupiers of Bridge View. They are accustomed to parking immediately outside their properties, obstructing footpath 53 which runs along the pavement. (The council has repeatedly acquiesced to this, despite its legal duty to protect the highway.) So in order to widen footpath 53, the council intends to sacrifice 220 square metres of Bridge Gardens public open space to make a private car-park for Bridge View occupiers.
The council acquired Bridge Gardens in 1946 through a compulsory purchase order. There was a public inquiry into this on 11 December 1945. According to the Maidenhead Advertiser the following day, many spoke of the importance of both the river and the open space to the town. The town clerk, Mr J A Baird, was particularly eloquent. He declared that it was proposed to use the whole site
for the purposes of public gardens and open space. Maidenhead was an attractive town , and its amenities were of vital importance. One of the most important features of the town was the river, and it was the keen desire of the council to safeguard those amenities and to take steps to see that those great natural assets should be enjoyed to the full to the benefit of the people of Maidenhead and the many visitors attracted to the river.
It would be a betrayal of those who secured this open space for the town if their successors convert part of it into a private car-park—just to keep the Thames Path away from the river.
The council will have to advertise its plan and consider objections, of which there will be many. Local activist Dave Ramm has organised a petition which you can sign here.
Natural England, the Maidenhead Civic Society, the Ramblers, the River Thames Society, the Rotary Club of Maidenhead and the Open Spaces Society are among those who have called for the riverside route.
The council claims the cost of the riverside route would be £350,000 compared with £185,000 for the roadside one, but it is unclear how it arrived at these figures.
This is how the riverside route could look—and it would have minimal impact on the occupiers of Bridge View.
It is ridiculous that this argument has gone on for decades. But there is still plenty to fight for. The battle continues.