Paths in Crisis

Ensuring cuts don't stop you in your tracks

View of a field through a gap in a stone wall

We regularly hear from ramblers who have been stopped in their tracks by blocked, overgrown and impassable footpaths.  Access to our beautiful country is being eroded. And the problem is only getting worse. Analysis of freedom of information requests found that:

  • nearly 70% of highway authorities have cut their rights of way budgets over the period 2009–12
  • 41% of councils have cut their budgets by more than 20%.
  • 11% of councils have reduced funding by more than half.  
  • there are already over 100,000 path problems in England waiting to be fixed.

We’re collecting information from 2013/14 to ensure we have up to date figures. We know that councils are under massive budget pressure so we want to work with councils, to get out there and help to fix path problems - as well as by sharing good practice to ensure we can all enjoy the simple pleasures of going for a walk.

Take action!

Check out our guide to getting footpaths properly maintained.

Do you have experience of working well with your local council to maintain paths? We’d love to hear from you so we can share your experience. Contact campaign@ramblers.org.uk 

       

What is happening with paths in the East Midlands?

3 councils in the East Midlands region have cut their budgets for paths this year.

  • Derby City Council has a large number of outstanding path problem reports per mile of rights of way.
  • Derbyshire County Council scored top in a recent satisfaction survey of paths. However, there is much work to be done to establish control procedures for outstanding problems, particularly in the area of cropping and ploughing obstructions, and to reduce the backlog of cases of paths waiting to be legally protected.
  • Leicester City Council could not calculate their rights of way budgets because “responsibilities are shared amongst a number of officers who undertake the work”.
  • Leicestershire County Council cut their budget by £45,000 (6%) and spends less on every mile of path than other parts of the country.
  • Lincolnshire County Council does not keep county-wide records of path problem reports, so we are unable to look at what the effect of any cuts has been.
  • Northamptonshire County Council cut rights of way staff by over 30%.
  • Nottinghamshire County Council has a large number of paths waiting to be protected as a right of way (113).
  • Rutland County Council cut rights of way staff by 20% and does not have available data for problem reports.

What's happening with paths in the East of England?

4 councils in the East of England region have cut their budget for paths this year. Cambridgeshire and Essex County Councils have each cut more staff than anywhere else in the country

 

  • Cambridgeshire is one of our Councils of Concern because of the amount of cuts they’ve made to staff. We’re concerned that there are less than 10 staff looking after over 2,000 miles of path
  • In Essex, the staffing cuts and staff changes, means that the identitiy of some volunteer groups has been "lost" and other existing volunteer teams are idle as there is a lack of manpower to manage them.  New volunteer groups are even less able to get off the ground.
  • Paths in Hertfordshire are generally in good condition following years of hard work from local Ramblers, council staff and landowners. However there is concern for the future because funding has been cut by over £100,000 (having previously cut funding by over £900,000). Without strong political will for paths then conditions may deteriorate.
  • Norfolk County Council has previously cut its budget for paths by 70%. This year's report has shown that they're beginning to invest more in their paths, we hope this trend continues.
  • Peterborough has no dedicated staff to look after its 150 miles of paths.
  • Ramblers in Suffolk clear back vegetation and install signposts to keep paths in the county in good condition.
  • Thurrock Council has cut its budget by a third this year.

What is happening with paths in the North East?

The North East emerged as the best region in our report this year, as no council cut their budget for paths. Northumberland and Durham are both doing well, but there is a mixed story from the Tyne and Wear authorities all of whom are short of staff and not giving sufficient priority to paths in their areas.

  • Durham County Council made severe cuts to their budgets and staff a couple of years ago, but they are now performing fairly well and prioritising problems particularly in urban areas.  Northumbria Ramblers (and Durham CC) have been involved in the planning and establishment of the Durham Coastal Path which we expect to be opened in 2014.
  • Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council does not keep records of path problem reports and have previously cut staff by 50%. We’ve tried to work with the Council to set up a volunteer team, but they don’t have the staff to support it.
  • We are working with Northumberland County Council on new initiatives to try and keep paths protected. The council recently installed a new set of stepping stones across the attractive River Aln in Lesbury.
  • South Tyneside Metropolitan Borough Council has a large number of outstanding path problem reports per mile of rights of way (2.74%), having previously cut their rights of way budget by 66%.


What's happening with paths in the North West?

8 councils in North West region have cut their budgets for paths this year.

  •  Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council cut their budget for paths by 44% having previously cut funding by 16%, reducing their budget per mile of rights of way to one of the lowest at £202/mile (the average is £1,143).
  • Blackpool Council was unable to provide specific budget data on rights of way as it is “merged within Neighbourhoods / Grounds Maintenance budgets” (and also did not provide figures in 2012).
  • Cheshire West and Chester has 4020 problems awaiting resolution, equating to 5.3 problems per mile of right of way. This is derived from their database of the detailed results of a full survey of the whole rights of way network in the Borough, which was commissioned from an external consultant in 2010.  As such, their data includes a large number of minor technical problems which do not detract significantly from the effective use of the paths by walkers. Cestrian (Chester) Ramblers Footpaths Group works alongside the council by carrying out twice monthly inspections of paths in their area, with the nature and locations of identified issues being reported immediately in detail to the Authority for resolution
  • Halton Borough Council has a high percentage of paths on the waiting list to be protected as a right of way.
  • Lancashire County Council has one of the lowest budgets per mile of rights of way at £182/mile. It has previously cut budgets and staff, with outstanding path problem reports more than doubling and the number of problems taking over two years to solve trebling.

Merseyside:

  • Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council was unable to provide specific budget data on their public rights of way services as it is “included in overall maintenance budget allocation Routine maintenance other Roads”.
  • Liverpool City Council has a high percentage of paths waiting to be protected as a right of way.
  • Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council has the highest percentage of path problem reports awaiting resolution (8.9%)
  • Wirral Ramblers work with the authority to maintain footpaths and promote tourism, especially walking, particularly through the Wirral Walking Festival which runs for the whole of May. 

 

Greater Manchester:

  • Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council cut their path budget by 23% on top of previous cuts of 58%, as well as previously cutting staff by 66%.
  • Bury Metropolitan Borough Council made the largest percentage cut to their rights of way staffing by 55% on top of previous cuts of 25%, as well as previously cutting their budgets by 75%.
  • Manchester City Council was unable to provide specific budget data on their rights of way service as it is in the “wider maintenance & Neighbourhood Delivery Team”.
  • Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council is one of our Councils of Concern having cut their path budget by 58% this year, on top of previous cuts of 60%, which has resulted in the smallest budget per mile of rights of way at £46/mile (although the budget provided excludes staff costs which are part of a Highways Services contract).
  • Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council is carrying out a 3 year review of their paths to try and make them as good as possible for walkers, horse-riders and cyclists.
  • Salford City Council has the second lowest budget per mile in England at £131/mile (the average is £1,143/mile).
  • In Tameside we are exploring the possibility of working with the council to improve paths in the area.
  • In Trafford the reduced Council labour force for maintaining paths has resulted in Ramblers becoming an established voluntary force to clear minor vegetation and put way marks in place. This is gratefully acknowledged by Councillors, council staff and residents alike.
  • Wigan Council cut their rights of way budget by 22%.

What's happening with paths in the South East?

3 councils in the South East region have cut their budgets for paths this year.

  •  Brighton & Hove City Council was unable to provide specific budget data on their rights of way service as it is “not recorded in an accessible format”.
  • Buckinghamshire County Council has a low budget per mile at £383/mile (the average is £1,143/mile). The Council had a proud tradition of caring for public paths, but unfortunately this is changing.  Councillors no longer seem to appreciate that investing in paths is investing in people.  The excellent team has been fragmented between council departments and a private contractor and we fear that the service will deteriorate.  We are lobbying councillors to maintain the budget and to ensure the county's wonderful path network is kept in good order.
  • In East Sussex there is an ever-growing list of serious path obstructions that are not being dealt with as they fall too far down the council’s priority (or triage) list. Despite this, the Council is cutting the Rights of Way budget by a further 17% in 2014, following a 30% cut this year. They are reduced to 3 dedicated  RoW Officers, and one of them is part time. There is no dedicated Enforcement Officer. Despite the refusal by councillors to listen to our arguments, Ramblers continue to work with RoW Officers. Ramblers’ Local Footpath Secretaries have extended the council’s resources by reporting and checking on cropping and ploughing-out of paths. Some are also taking part in a new Path Warden scheme along with parish volunteers. Sussex Ramblers have contributed significant funds to finance gates-for-stiles replacements in places where they will bring greatest benefit to a wide range of walkers.
  • Hampshire County Council has over 2,000 path problems waiting be fixed.
  • Kent County Council has a high number of path problem reports awaiting resolution (5,179) and also cut a high number of staff.
  • In Milton Keynes, despite the good efforts of the few rights of way officers, the very limited budget and resources available inevitably cause delays in solving the many problems that exist with footpaths and bridleways in the area.
  • Oxfordshire County Council has a high number of path problem reports awaiting resolution at 3,683.
  • Portsmouth City Council was unable to provide specific budget data on their rights of way service as “allocation of resources within the outsourced highway maintenance contract is at the contractor's discretion and no breakdown is available” (and did not provide figures in 2012).
  • Surrey County Council cut their path budget again this year, on top of previous cuts. However, we have several teams working across the county cutting back overgrown paths and putting in new gates and signposts.  
  • West Berkshire Ramblers work closely with the council to keep paths in the area in good condition. Local Ramblers have surveyed and cleared all the paths with reported problems twice over the last 10 years and are now proceeding with their third cycle of surveying and fixing issues. The Council and Ramblers also work with people with learning difficulties, to carry out path clearing, litter picking and other enjoyable tasks which keep paths open and easy for people to use.
  • West Sussex County Council was unable to provide information of path problem reports. However, anecdotal evidence from members suggests that they have not seen any noticeable difference in the condition of the network in West Sussex over recent years.  We have expressed our appreciation informally to staff on a number of occasions for their commitment to maintaining the network.  Obviously this is dependent on continuing political support within West Sussex County Council.

What's happening with paths in the South West?

10 councils in the South West region have cut their budgets for paths this year.

  • In Bath & North East Somerset there are an average of 2.9 problems per mile of path.
  • Cornwall County Council tops our list of Councils of Concern because it has over 19,000 problems waiting to be repaired – nearly a fifth of all outstanding path problems in the country.
  • Devon County Council has the third highest number of paths waiting to be protected as a right of way (245). Our volunteers have a good relationship with the council, ensuring that paths in the county remain in good condition.
  • Dorset County Council has cut path budgets again this year, on top of previous cuts, and has one of the lowest budgets per mile at £218/mile (the average is £1,143/mile).
  • Gloucestershire County Council has cut their path budget by £76,500 this year, on top of previous cuts of over £300,000, and now has one of the lowest budgets per mile at £159/mile (the average is £1,143/mile). Local Ramblers have developed a good working relationship with the council, and they are very aware of the pressures the spending cuts are having on the authority. Local Ramblers have also recently established a Path Maintenance Team to resolve simple footpath problems. Individuals and the team are actively supporting our path network by installing waymarks, clearing stiles and cutting back vegetation. For example, two weeks ago, in the pouring rain, a team of nine volunteers cleared and marked 300m of a long-forgotten public footpath through a Miserden wood and up the side of the valley.
  • North Somerset Council has a high percentage of path problem reports awaiting resolution.
  • Plymouth City Council is another of our Councils of Concern having cut their path budget by over £90,000 (36%) this year, as well as having a high percentage of paths waiting to be protected as a right of way.
  • Poole Borough Council has cut their path budget by 30% this year, on top of previous cuts of 20%, as well as having one of the highest percentage of paths waiting to be protected as a right of way.
  • Somerset County Council is one of our Councils of Concern having cut their path budget by nearly £300,000 (24%) this year. However, local Ramblers are working with the council to minimize the impact of these cuts.
  • South Gloucestershire District Council has cut their rights of way staff by 20% this year.
  • Swindon Borough Council has cut their path budget by over £80,000 (44%) this year.
  • Our volunteers work with Wiltshire Council to improve paths in the area. In South Wiltshire our volunteers gave up 566 hours to install 24 kissing gates and 3 sleeper bridges, as well as clearing 4.7 kilometres of path.

What's happening with paths in the West Midlands?

4 councils in the West Midlands region have cut their budgets for paths this year.

  • Birmingham City Council is one of our Councils of Concern with the largest percentage of paths on the waiting list to be protected.
  • Coventry City Council was the only council in England unable to provide information on the number of miles of their rights of way and has a further 109 paths waiting to be protected as a right of way.
  • Herefordshire Council has a high number of path problem reports awaiting resolution (5,767) which is also high as a percentage of their path network, as well as cutting staff this year, and cutting path budgets this year on top of previous budget cuts. It is vital that in these time of austerity, the Council works more closely with groups like Herefordshire Ramblers who can undertake practical footpath work and help to reduce the backlog of repairs. 
  • Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council was unable to provide specific budget data on their rights of way service as “work is carried out as required funded through the general highways maintenance budget”.
  • Shropshire Ramblers work with the council to improve paths in the area.
  • Staffordshire County Council has cut their path budget by over £100,000 this year and with a high number of paths waiting to be protected as a right of way (239) is one of our Councils of Concern.
  • Stoke-on-Trent City Council has a high percentage of paths waiting to be protected as a right of way.
  • Telford & Wrekin Council has a high percentage of paths waiting to be protected as a right of way.
  • Warwickshire County Council has previously made very severe cuts to their budget for paths, but has worked with local Ramblers to minimise the effect on the path network. Warwickshire County Council has two dedicated members of staff co-ordinating over 30 volunteer groups in the county. 
  • Worcestershire County Council has cut their rights of way staff by 16% and cut their path budget by over £60,000 this year, following previous cuts of £45,000, and has one of the highest number of path problem reports awaiting resolution (3,399).

What's happening with paths in Yorkshire and the Humber?

6 councils in the Yorkshire & Humber region have cut their budgets for paths this year.

 

  • Barnsley Borough Council cut their rights of way staff this year by 42% and is one of our Councils of Concern.
  • In the City of Bradford and its surrounding countryside we find the Council's rights of Way staff responsive to requests for action to maintain paths and furniture within their depleted resources particularly where new obstructions and potentially hazardous situations are reported to them. Unfortunately the Council increasingly do not have a budget to deal with a backlog of  physical and legal problems, including many missing signs, deteriorating surfaces and an enormous backlog of recorded paths in the old County Borough and legal events which remain to be added to or modify the Definitive Maps.
  • Calderdale Borough Council is one of our Councils of Concern with a high number of path problem reports awaiting resolution (7,408) and which is also a high percentage of their rights of way network.
  • In Doncaster we work alongside the Council team with the maintenance and clearing of footpaths which has resulted in a good working relationship and hence a speedier response to resolving problems. 
  • East Riding of Yorkshire Council cut their path budget by over £70,000 this year.
  • Hull City Council has a high percentage of paths waiting to be protected as a right of way.
  • Kirklees Metropolitan Borough Council is one of our Councils of Concern having cut their path budget by 29% and staff by 33% this year, on top of previous budget cuts of 22% and staff cuts of 40%.
  • North East Lincolnshire Council was unable to provide specific budget information on their rights of way service as there is “no specific service budget allocation in contract with Balfour Beatty”.
  • North Yorkshire County Council has a high number of path problem reports (9,159), and cut their path budget by nearly £100,000, having previously cut their budget by £175,000.
  • In the City of York, we work closely with council to survey paths and monitor problems. However, we're finding that they have not been able to make any visible progress over the year to add more footpaths and bridleways to the Definitive map, nor resolution of old unresolved problems. 

Path guardians

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Path maintenance

Fact

Walking generates £65 million for Shropshire's economy.