Concern over blocking of Norfolk’s footpaths

Edingthorpe resident Mrs. Elaine Witham attempting to cycle along a path close to her home. Edingthorpe resident Mrs. Elaine Witham attempting to cycle along a path close to her home.

Friday, August 15, 2014
11:08 AM

More of Norfolk’s public footpaths are becoming blocked and ramblers say the situation is getting worse.

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The end of a public footpath at EdingthorpeThe end of a public footpath at Edingthorpe

The EDP reported last week how Norfolk’s long-distance trails the Weavers’ Way and Paston Way–are to get a half-million pound boost.

But concerns have been raised that money is being targeted in only one place when other public rights of way across the county are being left to become overgrown and unusable.

Ian Witham, Open Spaces Society Local Correspondent for Norfolk, said there was a “huge disparity” between the quality of those Norfolk public paths which form part of the Norfolk Trails Network, and those which do not.

He said where PROW (public rights of way) go across fields the county council is under a statutory duty to enforce occupiers of land to comply with their obligations to reinstate path surfaces where they have ploughed them up, and to keep them clear of crops.

Norfolk County Council’s comments

A spokesman for Norfolk County Council, said:

“The Norfolk Trails network brings together over 1,200 miles of walks, cycle and bridle routes throughout our beautiful county.

“Hundreds of thousands of visitors and residents use the Norfolk Trails each year, generating around £12 million for Norfolk’s economy and bringing vital investment into local communities and businesses.

“Over recent years we have grown the Trails network to include existing public rights of way, adding circular, long and short walks. We are actively maintaining, developing and promoting those routes to a high standard.

“But we are also investing in our public rights of way that aren’t included in our Trails network.

“This year we are spending £75,000 on proactive cutting, for example.

“As in the past, a proportion of public rights of way are maintained reactively. Whilst our staff systematically inspect rights of way, we assess and prioritise our response to issues and complaints that are flagged up to us about the network.

This could include us taking direct action, or encouraging landowners to take action.

“Fifteen per cent of the network is cross field paths where the landowner, not the county council, has responsibility. We encourage local solutions, often working with town or parish councils, but have also stepped up our enforcement procedures when required.”

But he said: “The council is failing to enforce promptly, if at all.”

He said other problems included a reactive approach to vegetation cutting and poor quality signposting which is vulnerable to being vandalised.

He said: “Increasingly, signposts are becoming hidden by, and embedded within, adjacent overgrown vegetation.”

Ian Mitchell, Ramblers Norfolk Area Footpath Co-ordinator, said: “All the paths within five miles of these two trails (Paston and Weavers Way) should be brought up to the standard of the trails themselves in terms of vegetation (and crop) cutting this autumn and next year.”

National Farmers’ Union Comments

National Farmers’ Union County Adviser Alex Dinsdale said: “Farmers want the public to enjoy Norfolk’s beautiful countryside and they welcome walkers who follow the Countryside Code.

“Norfolk farmers are generally very good at reinstating cross-field footpaths after carrying out field operations, as they are required to do, not only by law but also under the terms of their CAP payment receipts.”

Ken Hawkins from Dereham, who is voluntary footpath warden for the town council said the problem was that when a footpath did become blocked it could create a whole raft of problems.

He said: “When this happens, not only is the blocked path not available, but those which lead to it and from it don’t get used either, so they become overgrown too, and so the blockage spreads, just like a thrombosis - and, just like a thrombosis, it will eventually prove fatal to the whole network.”

But now a Norfolk-based member of the Ramblers has won a landmark High Court case which will protect walkers from being crippled by costly legal fees in public right-of-way disputes.

When public footpaths are blocked or closed to walkers, the Ramblers often apply to the local council to have the obstruction removed in order to allow free access. If the case goes to court, the charity, which runs entirely on donations, may be stung by expensive legal costs.

This practice has been challenged by a recent High Court appeal involving Roy Wheeler, a rambler, who complained to Norfolk County Council about obstacles, including trees and a gate, blocking a public footpath in Brampton.

The county council took the view that there was “no unlawful obstruction” and the dispute was later taken to the magistrates’ court.

The court rejected Mr Wheeler’s case against the council, and ordered him to pay the legal costs for the entire proceedings, amounting to over £2,000, made on behalf of the defendant, Norfolk County Council, but also on behalf of the individual landowner originally accused of blocking the footpath.

Mr Wheeler represented by Alistair Williams, a paralegal at the law firm Bates Wells Braithwaite, launched an appeal process which eventually made its way to the High Court and won.

His appeal was based on the argument that while a magistrates’ court has the right to award legal costs to either the complainant or the defendant in a case, legal statute does not allow the court to allocate costs to “third parties” such as the private landowner.

The decision has now set a new precedent for future disputes meaning charities like the Ramblers will be able to bring their concerns to court without being made to pay extortionate legal fees in respect of third parties.

8 comments

  • Ramblers were instrumental in getting Greenlanes downgraded to footpaths. At least Greenlanes were kept open. The biter has been bit. I have no sympathy for the ramblers.

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    Lord Elf

    Sunday, August 17, 2014

  • I always take secateurs on our walks as the vegetation seems to be worse this last two years (plenty of rain). The more the paths get walked the better they are. We walk all over the country making walks for our website iFootpath and have found it is very different from one county to another. We did not find Norfolk any worse and in many cases one of the better areas for access. Footpaths are a great asset to the whole country and it is such a shame when they fall in to disuse. My last point would be that vegetation is a problem that can usually be resolved when more people walk the route. What is more of a problem are stiles that are too high for many people (and dogs) to climb over, aggressive cows and water logged areas that too deep to walk through.

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    Richard Jemmett

    Friday, August 15, 2014

  • NCC do have a stutory duty to ensure that the footpaths are kept clear - however NCC is struggling against huge cuts in its budget which has been forced on it by this government. Landowners, and especially farmers, also have a legal duty to keep the footpaths clear on their land - they receive HUGE amounts of money to do this, so it seems somewhat unfair that we rely on the underfunded NCC to ensure they do!

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    arfur

    Friday, August 15, 2014

  • Excellent well done for challenging NCC and winning. Our footpaths must all be kept clear to allow people to enjoy walking these precious public rights of way.

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    They are sent to try us!!

    Friday, August 15, 2014

  • Farmers tend to be as good at keeping paths open as they are at letting traffic pass when they are in their tractors.

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    arfur

    Friday, August 15, 2014

  • Is she trying to cycle on a ROW which is a footpath ? If so she is breaking the law. What is sauce for the goose..

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    Daisy Roots

    Friday, August 15, 2014

  • If paths are needed-ie they are used, they will be kept open by footfall If walkers took a stick with them and beat down a bit of undergrowth as they walk then the paths might be clearer It is a very fine luxury to expect someone to pay from their own pockets for a lawn smooth path for you to walk your dog on. And one wonders if the path the woman in the article is a footpath restricted to walkers and she is using it illegally. To be allowed to ride a cycle the path needs to have a different designation ( used to be bridle path) Only this week I encountered a walker with a pony, who had illegally been with the pony on a ROW designated a footpath by taking advantage of gates installed to allow disabled access. When the walker and pony encountered perfectly legal kissing gates ( still large enough for a wheel chair) and stiles they wanted to use private land for a short way home. These same gates allow abuse of footpaths by dirt bike users, who can be unpleasant. It seems to me there is an awful lot of emphasis on the rights of walkers and not much on their legal obligations. We are short of money in the county with not much to spare for bramble clearance-take your secateurs on your walk.

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    Daisy Roots

    Friday, August 15, 2014

  • Re the NFU's comments: farmers are as good at keeping paths clear as they are at pulling over in their tractors to let the traffic past.

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    arfur

    Friday, August 15, 2014

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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