Footpath pledge despite cuts in maintenance cash

Council bosses have pledged to get tough on landowners who do not keep public rights of way open, even though the authority is slashing its own spending on maintaining the footpaths.

As part of its package of cuts agreed after the Big Conversation consultation, Norfolk County Council has already agreed to cut spending on the 2,355 mile local rights-of-way network to save �578,000.

The council currently has a path-clearing programme, but that will stop completely by the end of this financial year.

Instead walkers will be asked to act as the council's 'eyes and ears' to spot problems, with parish and town councils urged to help keep rights of way clear.

The council says, for instance, if a fallen branch blocks a footpath, a parish council would have the local knowledge to report that to the landowner responsible, with County Hall taking enforcement action if the landowner does not sort out the issue.

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But the authority also hopes volunteers will help cut back vegetation on footpaths.

Bill Borrett, cabinet member for environment and waste said: 'The county council is committed to meeting its duty to maintain all public rights of way in Norfolk, as defined and required by law. To do this we will be working even more closely with landowners and managers, local councils and voluntary groups.

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'We will, as now, use our enforcement powers when necessary and under our new system, enforcement action should happen much more quickly.

'Previously, the county council's approach relied on goodwill and cooperation. This had some success, but often involved delays. This will be a quicker, more responsive, more effective and more efficient arrangement.'

The cuts have concerned the Norfolk Ramblers' group, while Liberal Democrat and Green councillors at County Hall have criticised the move.

The new enforcement regime will be discussed at a cabinet meeting today, where plans to develop the 400 miles of Norfolk's 12 long distance paths, modelling them on the National Trails, will also be discussed.

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