It may surprise you to hear that the Open Spaces Society has objected to a planning application for a new footpath in Maidenhead.
This is because the proposed path would make it even more unlikely that we could win a Thames-side path for the Thames Path National Trail in the heart of Maidenhead (see earlier blog).
A 29-metre gap
There is a gap in the riverside route. It runs by the river through Bridge Gardens, near Maidenhead Bridge, and then does two dog legs inland, alongside the busy Ray Mead Road with no view of the river, before returning to the Thames. Windsor and Maidenhead Council and Natural England should be working to fill this 29-metre gap but they have been deterred by an alleged cost of £350,000 to compensate the owners of Bridge View which overlooks the Thames. The riverside route could run beneath the properties and the occupiers wouldn’t even see it. There are no construction costs, the path is already there on the ground.
Instead the council wants to make the dangerous inland route better, by extending the footpath alongside Ray Mead Road by about 17 metres and creating a path with a maximum width of 1.5 metres. But this will not achieve that aim.
Last summer the council proposed alternative parking spaces for Bridge View residents, in Bridge Gardens—a heinous plan for an open space which fortunately was dropped. It now offers no alternative parking. The occupiers of Bridge View will naturally want to park their cars outside their properties and the space is limited so that they will inevitably straddle the footpath, and put walkers at risk as they drive in and out. And this is on a national trail!
And even without the parking issue the footpath is a shabby alternative to the lovely walk by the river.
Ten years ago, the Countryside Agency (predecessor to Natural England) pressed Devon County Council to make creation agreements or orders to remove the South West Coast Path national trail from the busy road at Strete and Stoke Fleming on the south Devon coast and get the path closer to the sea. The section east of Strete has already been resolved and that to the south-west will be opened before long. These stretches are much longer than the missing Thames Path, and have been achieved by resolute negotiation. Devon County Council did not give in to landowners and occupiers, unlike Maidenhead and Windsor Council.
Councillor Simon Dudley, the council’s deputy leader and Maidenhead Riverside ward member, says that the proposal is ‘a safe, cost-effective scheme that will significantly improve this popular section of the Thames Path National Trail and also improve pedestrian access to Bridge Gardens’. Hardly—and it could set back the campaign to create a safe riverside route by many decades.
That’s why the Open Spaces Society and others are rightly opposing the planning application for a new footpath.