Progress report on Norfolk’s new rights of way regime

PUBLISHED: 13:44 13 February 2013 | UPDATED: 13:44 13 February 2013

Generic public footpath sign.

Generic public footpath sign. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY


A new maintenance regime for Norfolk’s footpaths has “bedded in” and allowed significant investments to be targeted at the most popular routes, according to a progress report delivered to councillors.

Norfolk County Council agreed in September 2011 to separate its statutory Public Rights of Way (PROW) functions from the Norfolk Trails – the major routes which attract tourism and business to the county.

While the authority still manages those trails, it no longer pro-actively maintains any smaller paths for which it is not legally responsible, and has stepped up enforcement action against landowners if they do not meet their own obligations.

A progress report was delivered to the council’s cabinet scrutiny committee yesterday which says the Norfolk Trails team have secured extra funding of £489,000 – with bids under way for a further £387,500.

It also outlined the proposals for the new Wensum Way, due to open in spring, which would connect the Nar Valley Way with Marriotts Way, making it possible to walk from Great Yarmouth to King’s Lynn.

For the ordinary PROW network, now managed as part of the highways department, the report says there had been 66 requests for enforcement and maintenance action since May 21, of which 20 are resolved and three are “long-standing issues”.

They include 18 public requests for maintenance, of which four were resolved, seven have work programmed and the remaining seven are ongoing or under investigation.

The council has also served 20 letters to landowners requesting that cross-field paths are reinstated after ploughing, of which 19 had been resolved.

Environment development manager John Jones said: “We have made a lot of progress since 2011. I think we now have a more systematic and consistent approach which will help us to defend our strategy if we are challenged. The Norfolk Trails have been very successful in drawing in funding and we think the balance is about right.”

Cabinet member for environment, Bill Borrett, said: “The Norfolk Trails brings in £10m and my aspiration is to at least double that. It is something we hope to grow in future, and the proposed Wensum Way is hopefully the beginning. There does seem to be central government money which we can bid into to expand the network.”

The report says between June and the end of November 2012 there were 2,868 “requests for service”, with 45pc relating to overgrown vegetation on surfaces or hedges.

Committee member Mervyn Scutter questioned why the figure was so high compared to the 500 requests received during the whole of 2009/10, and asked for a breakdown on how the request were resolved, rather than “bland data”.

Mr Borrett said: “Every single one of those results will have been dealt with, whether the action requested is carried out or not will depend on whether the request was reasonable or falls within the remit of the county council’s responsibilities.

Mr Jones said: “It is a significant increase, and some of that comes from a greater awareness, and that does lead to more action. As we respond more and engage more we get a dialogue going with requests which is all part of the process.”

Mr Jones said a systematic inspection regime had been implemented for the first time on Norfolk’s PROW network, based on the national code of practice.

Well-used urban footpaths will be formally inspected annually by a highway inspector, but the less well-used rural footpaths will only be formally inspected every five years.

In response to a question about whether this was an effective schedule and whether these inspections could be delegated to parish councils, Mr Jones said: “We encourage parish councils to take on a range of functions, and we have opened up the dialogue on rights of way, but in the current climate some are reluctant to do it, and that’s only natural.

“But we have set up this framework and the frequency we have adopted is consistent with national guidelines. It is a useful position to ensure we can demonstrate we are discharging our statutory duty, and above that we need to look at what’s practical, sensible and affordable.

“That is why we have come down to five years frequency, but we can review that if we need to. It’s a work in progress.”

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