Ramblers’ horror at path costs cuts

THOUSANDS OF POUNDS have been taken out of a ‘rights of way’ budget for walkers in East Sussex.

Sussex Area Ramblers Association revealed £285,000 has been ditched from the 2012/13 budget by East Sussex County Council.

More than 2,000 miles of footpaths exist in the county and the group said that even before current economic cuts there were only half the number of council rights-of-way officers looking after paths, compared to other council authorities.

Malcolm McDonnell, East Sussex Footpaths Secretary, said: “When a bridge becomes unsafe there will be no money to repair it.  When a path becomes overgrown it will not be cleared. 

“Action will not be taken when a landowner lets a stile become dangerous, or illegally blocks a footpath. Over time, the network will become more and more difficult to use and people will be discouraged from walking.”

Local paths used by people such as dog walkers are now most at risk, according to the group. Big routes such as the South Downs Way will be protected.

Chris Smith, spokesman for Sussex Ramblers, said: “Some of the blame for this must rest with central Government, but a choice has been made by the county council. According to the Campaign for Better Transport the council has allocated roughly £23million to the four mile long Bexhill/Hastings Link road. 

“Just a fraction of this could keep paths open, ensure an Olympic legacy and boost the economy by encouraging rural tourism.”

Rupert Clubb, County director of economy, transport and environment, said these were challenging financial times and the council had to prioritise spending money., adding: “Over the next four years we will be investing nearly £1.5m into our 2000 miles of paths and bridleways, but we are also looking at doing things differently to ensure funding goes to where it’s most needed. This means we are proposing changes to how our rangers work.

“We’re already working with several volunteer groups who carry out maintenance on the rights of way network and we’re really grateful for this support. We’ve also been talking with the Ramblers Association about setting up a county-wide ‘path warden’ system and we hope to have this up and running by the autumn. Our rights of way network will always be open and safe for residents and visitors to enjoy.”