Rural routes may suffer in budget squeeze

Hunt House Bridleway, Goathland on the North York Moors.
Hunt House Bridleway, Goathland on the North York Moors.
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new funding will have to be secured if the full network of footpaths through our most iconic landscapes are to be enjoyed for generations to come.

A project is underway in the North York Moors National Park to restore six off-road routes in the Esk Valley near Whitby with funding from the Department for Transport, but the national park authority warns that it is likely to need an injection of external funds in the future to continue to maintain its entire network of trails throughout the moors.

In 2011/12 the national park received grant funding of £5.13m but this will fall to £4.16m in 2014/15, leaving authority chiefs with some difficult decisions to make as it prioritises its spending.

In addition, the Ramblers Association says over 30 per cent of councils in England have cut their budgets for maintaining footpaths this year, with over 100,000 reported repairs still in need of attention.

Public funding is invested sparingly in national parks in England, equating to less than £1 per person each year.

Rachel McIntosh, communications officer for the North York Moors National Park, said the authority had been forced to adapt its services in recent years as funding cuts have kicked in.

“Over the last five years our budget has been cut substantially, by over 40 per cent in real terms, and we have made staff and service changes to try and meet those reductions,” she said.

“So far, to a large extent, we have protected our rights of way work because walking and cycling are among the top things people come here for and the money they spend contributes greatly to the local economy.

“Improving and maintaining footpaths and bridleways will continue to be a priority for us but with the level of cuts we have received, we are having to make some difficult decisions about everything we do and for the same level of work to continue we may be more dependent on external funding.”

It was important to point out, she said, that the national park authority has invested a considerable amount in cash and time over the years that have brought about huge improvements to the rights of way in the North York Moors, adding: “We will continue to do our utmost to maintain the current high standards and continue to offer the public a good quality network of footpaths and bridleways.”

Some 6.7m people visited the North York Moors National Park in 2012, when annual figures were last collated, and many of those will use public footpaths and bridleways to take in the natural beauty of the Moors.

A decision on whether current levels of funding will be set aside for rights of way work has yet to be discussed by members of the national park authority, but if its spending on rights of way is reduced, “it is likely that some less well used routes may deteriorate unless external funding can be found”.

As part of the Esk Valley project, an abandoned public bridleway between Beck Hole and Thackside Farm in Goathland has been re-established. The route crossed an old ford and changes in water levels and the movement of a large boulder often left the route difficult to use and was sometimes impassable.

But a short section of the bridleway has been diverted and it now connected to a nearby footbridge, a structure which has been widened to accommodate walkers, horses and cyclists.