23 August 1996

RA puts down its foot at path blocking

THE Ramblers Association launched a wave of criticism at landowners, farmers and local authorities this week after figures showed that Countryside Commission plans to open up 225,302km (140,000 miles) of blocked and cropped rights of way by the end of the century looked doomed.

Six simultaneous meetings were held by the Ramblers Association in Somerset, Essex, Staffordshire, West Yorkshire, south Wales and Midlothian on Tuesday, highlighting the lack of progress made by the commission.

The commission launched its millennium scheme to open up public rights of way in 1987, but figures released from the Institute of Public Rights of Way show that at current rates, the footpath initiative will not be completed until 2024. Only a third of local authorities believed they could meet the commissions targets by 2005.

Terry Grant, Countryside Commission spokesman, acknowledged there had been some slippage in the target figures, adding that an interim report would be published in October. But latest figures show that 25% more rights of way are now available to the public than there were eight years ago.

"We found in 1987 that walkers only had a one-in-three chance of completing a two-mile walk, and that riders had just a 2% chance of completing a 10-mile ride without encountering obstacles.

"Whatever the outcome, far more paths will have been reopened or be in a better state of repair in 2000 than before."

But Kate Ashbrook, Ramblers Association chairman, said the Countryside Commission and county and unitary authorities needed to be galvanised into action, adding that around 40,000 miles (64,372km) of paths were still impossible or difficult to use.

"The law says that public paths should be free from obstruction. Parliament has given county councils and unitary authorities the duty to enforce the law: They have been appointed as the policemen of the paths. But too often they fall asleep on the job."

Ms Ashbrook added that the Ramblers Association wanted to see farmers and landowners who illegally block or cropped paths taken to court.n

Tony McDougal

Ramblers want court action against farmers who block paths.