I’m not walking anywhere near a thousand miles on my little local journey but I am walking every path in the parish of Holmfirth over the coming year. There are over 200 individually numbered public footpaths,bridleways and byways in the Holme Valley which are available for public use and enjoyment. They form a wonderful public asset which ought to be properly valued,protected and maintained.
Legally each path should be signed where it leaves the public road, be free of obstruction and maintained to a level suitable for the expected traffic. Many will never need any maintenance or have any problems. Some paths will require an obstruction removing or some form of basic maintenance at some point but it is not rocket science as they say or a particularly expensive task. Structures such as stiles and gates are the liability of the landowner whereas the surface,signing and duty to remove obstructions rests with the local council.
It’s an interesting time to be walking the rights of way network in this way. At the moment there is huge pressure to build just about anything anywhere in the valley as our bankrupt council tries to stitch the hole in it’s corporate pockets with developments which will yield the council tax and business rates it needs to secure its fix of other people’s money. Secondly it is some five years now since the council slashed its maintenance budget for public rights of way in an early attempt to rid itself of a liability it never really liked anyway. It will be interesting to see how the lack of any planned works such as annual strimming and signposting have affected the network over this time.
When the council ditched public rights of way five years ago it had a backlog of some 4,220 known maintenance and enforcement issues recorded on its system. How has five years of “austerity” affected this number? It may be that the fabled “Friends of everything the council used to do” group has stepped up to the mark and things are hunky dory but I have to admit to never having any confidence in the councils only cunning plan for public rights of way.
In the past month I’ve walked about 20 paths some of which are completely problem free,some have minor problems and a significant proportion have serious issues making them difficult or impossible to walk. Overall there’s a sense of neglect with many of the relatively recent public footpath signs erected by the council in a poor state of repair or missing. A large number of stiles are unusable due to a lack of maintenance and as ever there are new problems as landowners start to take advantage of the powers that be not really giving a toss.
This is a great area for walking. It’s very accessible by the local kirklees population particularly via public transport and it seems a false economy to neglect such a valuable asset in this way. We all know that if the wind blows a slate off the roof you need to replace it without delay or run the risk of the roof coming off altogether. I think it’s fair to say that with a backlog of 4,220 known problems 5 years ago the roof could be described as coming off back then and it was perhaps a false economy to ignore this. The highways budget has been stable at around £16 million give or take over this period so it is not as if the council could honestly say it had no money for highways. They just don’t want to spend money on this type of highway. It’s going to be an interesting journey.