Staffordshire County Council is seeking to cut costs by changing the way it manages rights of way – including shifting some of its responsibilities to parish councillors and local community groups.
The council has said that as its income falls, but demand for services such as adult social care increases, it needs to find savings and new ways of working.
It stated: “We are therefore proposing new standards for how we maintain rights of way that focuses money and activity on those footpaths and bridleways which are important to our communities and for promoting tourism.”
See also: Know the law when farming near footpaths
A consultation document published on the council’s website suggests that its 4,500km network of footpaths and bridlepaths will be scored based on how much it is used and its value to the wider economy.
Paths will be categorised as A,B or C, depending on the score, with proactive maintenance work primarily focused on paths in the A category.
Problems flagged on A routes will also be addressed more quickly than issues that arise on B and C footpaths.
For example, the council said it was likely to make more effort to require landowners to reinstate an A or B category path after ploughing or cropping including taking enforcement action.
“We are less likely to move to enforcement action on ploughing and cropping on a C path.”
The consultation document also talks of the need to enhance the council’s volunteer programme to encourage more members of the public to help maintain local routes.
It also suggests that parish and town councils should consider taking on some of the liaison with landowners about their statutory responsibilities.
“This is because the vast majority of calls received by the county council are about problems on private land which are the statutory responsibility of the landowner, and local councils are in a better position to know what is most important to local people.”
Councillor Gill Heath said the council’s rights of ways team was working with limited budgets.
“We therefore need to ensure the rights of way team is as effective and efficient as possible, with a real focus on the footpaths of greatest use and greatest community asset,” she said.
“This review enables us to use our resources where they are needed most and classifying our network of footpaths will enable us to do so. It will also provide greater clarity for members of the public with regard to maintenance and how they report issues to us.”
Mrs Heath said in addition to extending its volunteer network, the council was keen to to encourage landowners to work with it to ensure rights of way crossing their property were always accessible.