All highway authorities are strapped for cash for public rights of way, and it is strange that some make it almost impossible for volunteers to get involved.
In Gloucestershire, where the county council contracts its work on public paths to Amey, there is an excellent band of volunteers, the Cotswold voluntary wardens. In fact they have operated throughout the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty since 1968, doing valuable work on the paths such as erecting signposts and waymarks, replacing stiles with kissing gates, and much more.
But Amey has now imposed stringent health-and-safety restrictions. It has forbidden any work which involves digging or placing a post in an existing hole. This will prevent the volunteers from plugging the gaps in the rights-of-way budgets. And what about the extra costs incurred when Amey has to chase around the county checking for underground services before a path problem can be resolved?
Amey has decreed that no ground may be broken until a statutory-undertaker plan has been obtained for the site and a CAT (computerised tomography) scan undertaken by a qualified operator to ensure there are no pipes or cables there. Then a permit to dig will be issued but this will only last for 24 hours—a ridiculously short time. Amey also says that if a bridge or stile becomes too dangerous, even on the Cotswold Way National Trail, it will close the path until it can make it safe.
A Cotswold Way voluntary warden says: ‘This morning I have to go and check a Cotswold Way finger-post with a blade broken off. This small job may require a hammer and chisel. Normally it would be easier to take the post out of the ground and work on the blade at ground level.
‘I need to take the post out to drill out the wooden dowels holding the remains of the old blade in place. If I try and do in situ, I will need a ladder (and I probably have the wrong type of ladder), road signs, cones etc.
‘Should I lift the post out of the hole, Amey would need to come and carry out a survey for underground services. Amey have not given a period for call-outs so it could be weeks or months (based upon previous personal experience) before the finger-post is placed back in the ground. This is absolute utter nonsense.’
Apparently the Cotswolds Conservation Board were never consulted and it heard about this by accident when an email from a public rights of way officer was sent to a wardens’ work party.
This is no way to run a highway network and, thanks to Amey’s strictures, Gloucestershire County Council risks losing one of the best volunteer teams in the country.