Area Footpath Committee News – March 2021
The work of footpath officers has continued throughout the pandemic, but with site visits to look at proposed diversion sites, for example, banned during lockdowns, liaison with local authorities has been done primarily by phone or online.
The flow of planning applications has been unbroken, and all authorities have been under pressure to increase housebuilding, introducing revised ‘site allocation’ maps showing which kinds of development are allowed on unbuilt-on land.
The East of Otley development which would place housing on the open fields between Otley and Pool, is currently being promoted actively by the developers who hope that early public consultation will create a body of supporters before the formal planning application is submitted. These developments produce problems if there are Rights of Way on the affected land. Footpath officers sometimes find that paths have been ignored by developers, or that the footpaths have been crudely (and against good planning principles) diverted to footways alongside new access roads. Preserving paths on green corridor lines which keep them away from houses as far as possible is desirable, but if it cannot be achieved it is important that the paths are in full view of houses and not compressed into a narrow corridor at the end of back gardens, where they are likely to become the focus of vandalism, crime and efforts to extinguish them. There is also concern regarding the large volume of temporary closure orders associated with new developments and officers have needed to be alert to closures that shut down parts of the path network for excessive periods of time. Highway projects such as the East Leeds Orbital Road can tie up paths, and officers have needed to attend to replacements of temporary diversion signs.
All footpath officers have received reports of muddy pathways, a result of a large increase in footfall on many paths close to urban areas, which has also caused an increase in issues reported to officers. Heavy rainfall and increased use has rendered ‘natural’ surfaced paths difficult to use, and paths have widened due to mud avoidance and social distancing, the consequence being a damage to winter crops in the process. Another unfortunate consequence of increased use of pathways has been an increase in litter.
Some officers have been looking into and getting involved in the NYCC Path-keepers Scheme where volunteers keep a check on the rights of way in their local area. This seems to be a worthwhile scheme and enables wider participation in footpath work.
The lockdown restrictions have also affected the effort to find lost paths under the Don’t Lose Your Way project with access to record offices etc. closed. Work on this will be able to recommence once restrictions are eased and the cut-off date for historical lost paths remains 2026.
Lockdown, with its effects on traffic levels, has prompted a number of authorities to devise consultations about the future balance between motor vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians. Expanded cycle lanes have appeared on urban roads, and streets have been blocked off by barriers to decrease vehicle flow. It is important that the Rights of Way network should be integrated into these emerging plans for the future of highways. The fact that urban area often have a mass of unregistered paths (lanes, ginnels etc) which are as essential for local convenience as the adopted carriage ways and footways must not be forgotten.