Keith Feltham, Footpath Inspector
This article is from Signpost 58, Autumn 2018
I first became aware of PNFS at a Bank Holiday market at Chesterfield in August 1988 where a stall was advertising the society. Having been a keen walker all my life I had a chat with the two men (I know not whom they were) manning the stall and took away with me two leaflets, one detailing its work and aims, the other a membership application. Being impressed by its policies and the fact that all those involved were volunteers working part time, I soon joined the society. After a few months, I decided that I could perhaps play my part in trying to get Public Rights of Way (PROW) conditions improved and applied for a position as footpaths’ inspector. The late Derek Taylor, Hon. General Secretary, contacted me and offered area 18, which included all the parishes in the North East Derbyshire District Council (NEDDC) area. I immediately accepted and on 18th May 1989, the Society’s Committee confirmed the appointment.
At that time, reports of problems went to Derek who would forward those concerning missing signposts to the County Council and any others to the District Council who were working on behalf of the county. The system worked well, although I thought a little slowly, but I later discovered that it would always be a slow process. Derek said to me later that it was a ‘dripping tap’ effect and patience was key to success. My memory says that initially most results were signpost erections. NEDDC employed a footpath inspector and at his instigation, we made many site visits together where I could point out the exact problems. I found this very useful, although it did not always produce my desired outcome (but he usually did his best). Most improvements to the PROW system were crop clearance and cutting back round stiles and gates, which had been virtually non-existent. In 1992 Barrie Clarke offered his services as inspector to the society, reducing my area to the 16 parishes in the southern half of the NEDDC area, which was more manageable, although with still 600 PROW to be inspected, at six monthly intervals (as Derek requested), an impossible task.
Derek Taylor suddenly passing away in January 2000 must have been a huge loss to the society, as he did a prodigious amount of work, but within a short time, service continued as previously. Then in 2001, at Derbyshire County Council’s (DCC) request, I started inspecting PROW for their Best Value Performance Indicator (BVPI) surveys, and continued doing so bi-annually until May this year. Until 2003, my reports were hand-written, with copies kept by use of carbon paper. Then I acquired my first computer, making saving and copying much easier. The following year I became connected to the internet and had an email address, ending the need to send reports by post. A retrograde step – in my opinion – came in 2005, when NEDDC handed PROW back to DCC. I have found they make lots of promises, but do not produce results, with things getting worse in the last couple of years due to a reduction in their resources i.e. staff and finances.
The reporting system was simplified in 2007 with reports going directly to Highway Authorities, and copies to PNFS. It made communication with DCC quicker, but did not speed up problem resolution. I have found them adept at avoiding action by such means as referring problems for investigation as mapping anomalies, or giving them a low priority rating, for action at a later date (meaning never). I have enjoyed every minute of my time inspecting; it has taken me to areas that I otherwise would not have visited and I recommend it to anyone considering it as a contribution to improve the PROW system, but do not expect quick results. There have been many successes; maybe none can be classed as major, but just making a footpath or bridleway accessible can be important to someone.
Next: Update on The Heights
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