Cornwall's Public Path Improvement Programme Benefits Coast Path Corridor (From This is The West Country)
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Cornwall's Public Path Improvement Programme Benefits Coast Path Corridor
2:09pm Thursday 30th March 2006 in South West Coast Path
Mike Eastwood and Peter Duthie Cornwall County Council.
Cornwall County Council began work on its innovative Public Path Improvement Programme in October 2005. The move followed the announcement in April last year that the Council would invest £2 million to improve public paths in Cornwall over a three year period. This will complement existing activity on the South West Coast Path National Trail.
The investment recognises the fact that public paths are a critical part of tourism infrastructure and provide both health and social benefits. But with nearly 3,000 miles of public paths criss-crossing the county (more than enough to stretch from Cornwall to Canada), it has been essential to prioritise spending. The funding will therefore go to those paths that provide the greatest benefit to users, identified as 'Gold'. Coast Path links and most paths near to significant coastal settlements are generally identified as Gold. In fact the first parishes to benefit are all coastal - Tintagel, Cubert, Marazion, Landewednack, Fowey and Maker with Rame. This will greatly improve the opportunities for circular walks using the Coast Path in one direction and inland paths in the other. Walkers will enjoy the enhanced access to the landscape, wildlife and heritage of the coastal corridor and more local businesses will stand to benefit.
Users can recognise completed paths by a unique gold sign placed at each end of a path when work has been carried out. Problems on Silver paths have been recorded but this work is not generally prioritised unless shown by a risk assessment to be a health and safety issue. Bronze paths usually have legal anomalies such as not meeting a road.
Consultation was undertaken with the Cornwall Local Access Forum, Town and Parish Councils and user groups such as the Ramblers' Association, with all parties strongly supporting the additional investment. The consultation resulted in some significant changes to the criteria used for path categorisation, and parish feedback was a major influence on the final path category decisions. 55% of Cornish paths (by length) have been classed as Gold, covering an estimated 90% of public use of the inland network. The initial phase of the programme will see £260,000 spent by March 2006, on issues revealed in a 2004 condition survey. This identified problems such as inadequate signage and waymarking, obstructions, sub-standard furniture and overgrown vegetation. The separate Coast Path survey data shows that it is in significantly better condition!
A work programme has been put together and detailed schedules and maps are being produced. A more unusual aspect of the programme is the amount of information we have been able to make available to the public. The original Public Path Strategy, a summary of feedback received, categorisation criteria, work plans and progress made will all be available online at www.cornwall.gov.uk/countryside. There will also be an interactive map showing path categories and which paths have been completed, to help the user make informed choices when planning walks in the coastal corridor.
Users can recognise completed paths by a unique gold sign placed at each end of a path when work has been carried out.
Work planning on the ground has greatly benefited from liaison with Town and Parish Councils. This has been invaluable when dealing with issues which are legally the landowners' responsibility, such as stiles and gates. Most parishes in Cornwall are also actively involved with path maintenance: through the Local Maintenance Partnership (LMP) they are paid on a formula basis to cut vegetation and undertake minor maintenance works. LMP will align maintenance priorities with PPIP path categories as improvements are delivered.
Toby Lowe, Senior Countryside Ranger said, "These works represent a significant contribution to improving Cornwall's public path network. Having well-maintained and accessible Public Rights of Way for both visitors and local people alike has incredible benefits for both the local economy and quality of life."
The PPIP works are the first phase of a longer-term strategy to improve and modernise the public path network and countryside access provision in Cornwall. The next stage will see the production with partners of the Cornwall Countryside Access Strategy (the Cornish Rights of Way Improvement Plan). A wide-ranging consultation for this has recently being completed by the Living Environment Service and the Statement of Action is now being prepared. The draft Strategy will be consulted on during summer 2006.