Yesterday representatives of path-user groups in Buckinghamshire met the county council’s portfolio holder for transportation, Mark Shaw. In common with many others the council faces huge cuts, but we had a sympathetic hearing from Mark.
He made clear his commitment to rights of way, their future and their budget. He assured us that he doesn’t merely see the worth of the rights-of-way network, he sees its need: ‘rights of way are at the heart of what we produce at Transport for Buckinghamshire’. But in these straitened times we have to find other ways of doing things and he recognises the value of volunteers.
Here are the arguments put forward by the British Horse Society, Chiltern Society, CTC, Open Spaces Society and Ramblers.
Public paths give excellent value for money. Relatively small sums achieve a great deal.
They are good for our physical and mental health and well-being. Regular walking slashes the incidence of heart disease, strokes, diabetes type 2, colon and breast cancer, and Alzheimer’s. It reduces obesity. This all helps to reduce the council’s costs on social care and care of the elderly
Public paths boost Buckinghamshire’s economy. Walkers, riders and cyclists spend money when they visit the county. Chesham Walkers Are Welcome town has shown the popularity of walking which helps local businesses. The British Horse Society has produced a report with evidence that riding brings £57 million year-round into Bucks.
State of the paths
Bucks has had an excellent record for the state of its paths, but now this is declining rapidly. The staff work incredibly hard and we cannot praise them enough, but they are severely impeded by lack of resources.
The Best Value Performance Indicator for the state of paths has fallen in the last year from 84% to 65% easy to use. The number of outstanding problems has risen from 799 at the end of March 2012 to 1,550 on 14 January 2016, ie it has doubled in four years.
The staff numbers in the rights-of-way section have been reduced in recent years from three Area Officers and four Assistants to two Area Officers and two Assistants; grossly insufficient for a large county with 3,300 km of paths. The crucial post of Rights of Way Officer (south) is vacant and has been frozen. We should like it to be unfrozen.
There are many volunteers, in the Chiltern Society, Ramblers and other organisations, eager to do work on the paths but they are unable to realise their potential because the council does not have the staff to do the preliminary negotiations and checks with landowners, nor the materials for the work. So the council is shooting itself in the foot if it does not provide the necessary support.
We therefore believe that the rights-of-way service is a critical function of the council and that money spent on it is an investment in the county’s future.
Our meeting was encouraging and we look forward to working with Mark and the rights-of-way team to secure funding and support for the invaluable path-network.