We must act now to save our footpaths

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There has been a proposal by Lancashire County Council to stop funding Pendle’s Countryside Access service from March next year.

This mainly means the upkeep of footpaths around Pendle.

As the highways authority, the county council is responsible for footpaths but for many years has delegated that function to Pendle Council. Currently the county council provides the borough council with a grant of £55,000 each year and Pendle tops that up with £25,000.

What does the service do? Principally it ensures our footpaths are maintained to a high standard. In the last six months, it has cleared 167 faults on the network, the great majority of which were dealt with within three months of notification – and this with a staff of just two!

What sorts of thing does this entail?

Examples are where a landowner blocked a path with a barbed wire fence, another where a landowner unofficially diverted a path, the “diversion” being almost impassable, the cutting back of overgrowth to keep paths usable, removing two fallen trees and repair of way markers to ensure walkers keep to the paths and not annoy farmers.

Additionally, there is an on-going programme of encouraging access for the disabled and less fit which includes replacing stiles with gates in appropriate cases and organising the annual walking festival. Altogether a remarkable service for a minimal outlay.

What would happen if it were to be lost?

In a local authority area not far distant we know of a case where a fire was lit on a wooden footbridge over a river and where someone laid a board over the charred planks. Anyone venturing onto the bridge could well have fallen into the river and would have been unlikely not to have been injured or worse. Despite reporting the fault, nothing was done for almost a year leaving the path unusable, the unsuspecting public exposed to risk and, had there been an injury, the council to a substantial claim.

This couldn’t occur in Pendle because any fault of this magnitude would be dealt with straight away by dedicated staff - staff who are now looking at redundancy next May.

A report of Pendle Council’s scrutiny group only last year could find little criticism of the service.

This isn’t a party political issue. The county council happens to be run by Labour but there are plenty of Labour councillors who are just as unhappy as we are to see the service go.

The borough council, meanwhile, is dominated by the Conservatives – who we would hope agree with us as to the service’s value.

Faced, however, with the county council pulling the plug on funding. we wouldn’t entirely trust them to pick up the tab for paying for it wholly out of Pendle’s share of the council tax.

Please write to County Coun. Azhar Ali at 8 Holden Road. As he is the county council’s cabinet member for health and wellbeing, as well as representing a Pendle division, he plays a most important part in determining whether the countryside access service continues – and what could be better for you than a stroll in the Pendle countryside away from traffic on its lovely paths?

Brian Parker

Pendle Councillor,

BNP, Marsden Ward