This article is from Signpost 47, Autumn 2014
My answer is all faults, including obstructions, overgrown paths, faulty stiles, missing or damaged signs and unofficial diversions. Do not neglect to report matters because you believe, albeit reasonably, that nothing will be done by the Highway Authority to remedy matters.
Councils allocate resources on the basis of demand for their services. Sending in a steady stream of fault reports helps to keep staff in employment and gives them ammunition to argue for more funding. Where experienced PROW staff have been made redundant and replaced by staff from highways who usually deal with road problems , their inability to cope with a flood of complaints about footpaths has led to reinstatement of some of the original rights of way workers. This happened in Bolton.
Most Councils are now setting up or encouraging volunteers to work on PROW s particularly the clearing of vegetation and way marking of paths. In Bolton for example the Ramblers work closely with the PROW officer to clear paths outside the list of paths cleared by Council’s contractors. For these schemes to be effective it is essential that the Council has a full picture of what matters need attending to.
Highway Authorities do sometimes have resources to spend quickly e.g. towards the end of a financial year or where there is an under spend on a contract. It is easy to allocate this money on erecting or replacing footpath signs or mending stiles. However this presupposes the Council knows where work needs doing. They will certainly not be able to send out an officer to look for work that needs doing.
There is also an important legal reason why all paths which are difficult or impossible to use should be reported. A footpath may be extinguished under section 118 of the Highways Act 1980 by the Highway Authority making an order on the ground that the path is not needed for public use. The Society must be consulted about any proposal to make such an order and if we oppose it, as we would often do, the matter will be resolved by a planning inspector at a hearing or public inquiry. A key issue in such a case is whether there have been any complaints about the state of the path. Where there is no evidence of use of the path and no record of requests for action to reopen the path it is a difficult task to persuade the inspector that the path is needed by the public.
Of course some faults are more important than others. Most Councils have priority criteria which they apply to complaints. Inspectors should be aware of these criteria and reflect them in their fault reports. Where the matter is a high priority, e.g. because the fault is dangerous, on a promoted route or a path of strategic importance to the network or a route to school or avoids walking on a heavily trafficked road, this needs drawing to the Council’s attention but not at the expense of neglecting to report the more common or garden varieties of fault.
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