Local authorities are fighting to keep on top of the maintenance needs of public rights of way alongside a backdrop of increased public expectations, council place directors have said.
The findings come from the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT) third survey on the impact of COVID-19 on public rights of way.
ADEPT said authorities are also experiencing increased claims for unrecorded routes due to the proposed 2026 historic cut off set out in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.
The survey revealed that the average existing backlog of claims to amend the definitive map (the legal record of public rights of way) was 62 per authority. The average time to clear these backlogs with existing resource levels is estimated at 16 years.
Shona Butter, chair of ADEPT’s Public Rights of Way Group said: ‘Our Public Rights of Way Officers are responsible for a wide range of countryside services and we do not have enough staff even to manage existing works. Services have been hit by year on year budget cuts, so ADEPT would like to see more support for capital schemes and greater long-term funding certainty.’
The survey ran from mid-January until the end of February 2021 and saw 85% of respondents reporting an increase in numbers using the public rights of way network, although some reported that numbers were lower than during the first lockdown in Spring 2020.
Respondents also reported a backlog of maintenance work on infrastructure such as bridges and gates, which has built up due to COVID-19 restrictions. Many reported that increased use and wet weather had created surface damage to footpaths.
This increase in use was cited by 62% of respondents as their top concern, with 52% naming budget and 45% citing lack of staff and resource. Increased budget was also cited as one of the top measures needed to support services, with 62% referring to long-term funding certainty.
Respondents also cited modification orders and deregulation, planning applications, climate and weather.
Rights of Way Officers from over 68 local authorities and nine national parks authorities across England and Wales responded to the survey, which was designed with the Institute of Public Rights of Way and Access Management (IPROW).
Chris Miller, president of IPROW, said: ‘The significant increases in use combined with the winter weather has left authorities fighting to keep on top of the required maintenance for paths alongside a backdrop of increased public expectations. Many authorities will need significant financial investment to ensure that the wide variety of benefits from outdoor access can be realised.’
The results of the survey can be found on the ADEPT website.