Campaigners have warned of a potential widespread loss of local footpaths, suggesting many councils will take a similar two-tier approach to pathway maintenance as they do for roads.
General secretary of the Open Spaces Society, Kate Ashbrook, told Transport Network that a similar division in maintenance regimes was emerging on path networks as on local roads, with less travelled routes likely to fall into disrepair.
She went to criticise Welsh Government proposals that councils prioritise recreational routes and access areas.
Footpaths have cultural value say Open Spaces Society
‘If local authorities are encouraged to pick and choose which routes to maintain, we shall find that we lose the bulk of them – yet they are all highways in law, just like any road, and we have the right to use and enjoy them,’ said Ms Ashbrook.
‘Each authority may be doing it but they’re not being told by government: “This is what you should do.” The problem is the Welsh Government sort of making a virtue of it. Authorities can say: “That’s what the Welsh Government told us to do.”’
A recent Welsh Government consultation document outlines ‘an entirely new access settlement in Wales which allows much greater use of land for responsible recreation’.
It also aims to simplify procedures for ‘creating, diverting or closing rights of way’ and calls for authorities to confirm prioritised networks of recreational routes and access areas.
‘It appears impractical to try to address today’s outdoor recreation needs with a 60-year-old system of paths regulated by onerous and costly procedures,’ the document states, citing paths which are on definitive maps because they were once used to deliver the post or fetch water from wells.
The Open Spaces Society counters that the path network has historic and cultural value.
The news comes after government figures this year revealed highways authorities across England have maintained the condition of key local road assets at a cost to unclassified roads.