Angry ramblers label cuts as ‘disgraceful’

Bridleway at Butts Brow Eastbourne E11025N
Bridleway at Butts Brow Eastbourne E11025N

CUTS to funding mean that rights of way such as footpaths, bridges and bridleways will not be maintained, according to the Ramblers walking charity.

The organisation has criticised the decision by East Sussex County Council to slash £285,000 from the 2012/13 Rights of Way budget, which is almost one third of the total.

Chris Smith from the Ramblers said local paths were at risk and it was disgraceful at a time when the nation is being inspired to be fitter and more active using a legacy of facilities from the games.

He said, “Walking is by far the most popular active recreation and East Sussex has more than 2,000 miles of footpaths to walk on.

“Even before current cuts it only had about half the number of council rights of way officers looking after the paths that similar councils have.

“Now when a bridge becomes unsafe there will be no money to repair it.

“When a path becomes overgrown it will not be cleared.

“Action will not be taken when a landowner lets a stile become dangerous, or illegally blocks a footpath.

“Over time, the network will become more and more difficult to use and people will be discouraged from walking

“The most famous routes, like the South Downs Way, will probably continue to be protected.

“The paths most at risk are local paths, not used by people travelling long distances but beloved of local dog walkers, exercisers and lovers of the countryside.

“Some of the blame for this must rest with central government, but a choice has been made by East Sussex County Council.

“According to the Campaign for Better Transport, the council has allocated roughly £23 million to the four mile long Bexhill/Hastings Link road.

“Just a fraction of this could keep paths open, ensure an Olympic legacy and boost the economy by encouraging rural tourism.”

Rupert Clubb, director of economy, transport and environment at the council, said, “These are challenging financial times and we have to prioritise where we spend our money.

“Over the next four years we will be investing nearly £1.5million into our 2,000 miles of paths and bridleways, but we are also looking at doing things differently to ensure funding goes to where it’s most needed.

“This means we are proposing changes to how our rangers work.

“We’re already working with several volunteer groups who carry out maintenance on the rights of way network and we’re really grateful for this support.

“We’ve also been talking with the Ramblers Association about setting up a county-wide ‘path warden’ system and we hope to have this up and running by the autumn.

“Our rights of way network will always be open and safe for residents and visitors to enjoy.”