Friday, 17 December 2010

Footpath cuts begin to bite in Bolton (17/12)

I'm travelling back from a Ramblers protest in Bolton against the council’s plans to axe funding for rights of way.

Earlier this month Bolton council announced their plans to delete their entire rights of way team, making two experienced members of staff redundant, as part of their efficiency saving review. This leaves the council with no dedicated staff to manage the rights of way network.

Bolton has 350km of footpaths, much of it on the urban fringe - ideal for people new to walking who want to escape the town for recreation and relaxation. Yet in future, the council expects all rights of way issues to be handled by the generic highway team - without the same skills and time to dedicate to rights of way.  

This afternoon, Bolton Ramblers took us for a walk through a frosty Moses Gate Country Park, to highlight the existing problems walkers in the area face and see firsthand how damaging the Council’s cuts will be to local footpaths.  We saw, for example, Wilson's Bridge, which is across a river on a popular right of way - providing a circular route on the outskirts of Bolton. It has been closed due to disrepair for two years - effectively cutting the circular route in half. 

As in other parts of the country, Bolton Ramblers are willing and able to help protect the footpath network in partnership with the council. But it's difficult to do this if the council removes the people with the skills and expertise who can facilitate this partnership. 

This issue might not have the same sense of urgency or resonance with the public as issues like student loans, or cuts in police numbers; and (as a former councillor myself) I appreciate these are difficult times for councils. But over time, if our footpath network gets increasingly clogged and blocked, it's going to affect very many people.  There are many people who are very attached to their local footpaths, and will notice if their use becomes more restricted.  

Thanks to Sue Stephenson and Jackie Roberts, from Bolton Ramblers, for organising today; and thanks also to Andrew Bennett, Area President and Ramblers National Vice President, for coming along.    

Tom Franklin
Sent from my iPhone

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