Herefordshire’s huge network of publicly accessible footpaths is disintegrating due to lack of resources, a local who monitors them has claimed.

Dave Howerski is the south Herefordshire “correspondent” for the Open Spaces Society, the national body which campaigns to keep public rights of way (PROWs) accessible.

He claimed Herefordshire Council and its public realm contractor Balfour Beatty “are under-reporting the number of defects” to the network, which runs to 3,400 kilometres across the county.

“I have been reporting for over five years, and I estimate that there are 2,000-2,500 minor defects on the network, which take between 18 months and three years to get fixed,” Mr Howerski said.

“A competent and properly funded and staffed highway authority can proactively respond to minor defects in two to three weeks.”

He claims this is because the council’s PROW department “is undermanned and starved of resources”.


However, getting a true picture of the department is complicated by the fact that the Herefordshire Local Access Forum, intended to enable the county’s network of volunteers to put concerns directly to council staff, “have effectively been given mushroom treatment” for the past two decades, Mr Howerski said.

“We are not able to advise [them] because we have no information about the PROW team’s organisation, staffing, planned inspections, maintenance or costs.”

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The group has gone from two meetings a year with council staff in 2017 and 2018, to just one in each year since.

“The forum would like to meet up at least four times a year,” Mr Howerski said. “Nothing can be achieved with one meeting per year.”

In this information void, Mr Howerski has resorted to lodging freedom of information requests with the council to get a clearer picture of its work.

Recently he discovered that of 48 obstructed rights of way which the Golden Valley Walking Club notified to the council in the year to December, seven led to letters to the landowners responsible, though these did not lead to any prosecutions; two were considered “long-term obstructions” meaning no legal action was taken; and 36, or three-quarters, had not been inspected and received no action.

Mr Howerski said this was “totally unacceptable” and that Herefordshire Council “is simply failing in its statutory duty”.

Mr Howerski’s equivalent in the north of the county, Peter Newman, confirmed: “The situation in my area is the same as that in south Herefordshire, namely that reports of problems on the rights of way network are usually not dealt with for many years, if at all.

“This is not good for promoting tourism in Herefordshire.”

A Herefordshire Council spokesperson said: “The public rights of way network is extensive so we must prioritise any issues to ensure the network is fit for purpose.

“We value our working relationship with local communities and volunteers, and will make contact with the member of public and work through their specific concerns.”

The spokesperson would not say how many obstructions to rights of way there are in Herefordshire, how long it takes to address these, or the staffing and budget allocated to the work.

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