Transcript of the address to the Council Scrutiny Committee on 3rd Feb 2021 by Ken Cridland…….

Submission to Tourism Economy & Community Scrutiny Committee Meeting – 3rd February 2021 at 6pm

During lockdown, and when it was possible to take exercise and longer walks, my wife and I visited parts of Blackpool, including Marton Moss and Marton Mere. Many would argue that access to these for tourism, for leisure and for the community, is very important.

Unfortunately we found some footpaths blocked and inaccessible. The difficulties encountered appear to conflict with the Council’s Green and Blue Infrastructure Strategy which is designed to maximise the use of green spaces, and also with the Councils legal responsibilities.

I emailed the Council about the problems. The initial response said, “It should be noted there is no public rights of way officer and no budget is allocated for public rights of way maintenance”.

Making an official complaint about a blocked Right of Way via the Blackpool Council website, I got this official response – 

“Several areas of programmed Public Rights of Way works have been deferred whilst further consideration of linked factors are considered, the accessibility and use (including historic) of the, Public Rights of Way, the practical, physical work involved and the subsequent resource that will be required.  It is hoped that these considerations can be brought to a conclusion soon.”

I am left wondering where this remit arose. It makes no mention of the legal requirement. On the UK Government website, it says that the authority must:

  • Keep the surface of public rights of way which are maintained at public expense in a fit state for public use. 
  • Make sure obstructions are removed.
  • Add signs where a public right of way leaves metalled roads.
  • Make sure the public’s rights to use a public right of way are protected.
  • Make sure landowners carry out their duties, and take action if they don’t.

There is no mention here that Blackpool Council can defer doing things, or decide whether to even do them at all.

My wife and I tried to use Path 11 to access Martin Mere. It starts on Preston New Road but is completely impassable because it has not been maintained for a long time. People have now started dumping things at the entrance. It cannot be used to either get onto Marton Mere, or get off Marton Mere. There is no signage. I was offered a site meeting to inspect it, and the two officers involved said that it was not even worth trying to get through. It is clearly marked on Ordnance Survey maps and on the Council website as a Public Right of Way.

There were posters up on Marton Moss from the Residents’ Forum there and we noticed that they have a website. On the website are some excellent proposals for community and leisure use of the area. There is also a report on the 11 Rights of Way on the Moss written last July.

  • All 11 need attention to signage
  • Maintenance is needed to stiles and bridges
  • For at least 4 paths, overgrowth is a serious problem
  • 2 are blocked by fences with no stiles or gates.
  • 1 is blocked off by locked gates
  • 2 appear blocked by buildings
  • 1 path next to a dyke is too narrow to use safely, as a wall seems to have encroached on it.
  • 1 is blocked by a partially fallen tree.

I am afraid that the Council fails on every single legal responsibility over Rights of Way that I read out, and that was not even a complete list of responsibilities! Councillors, on your watch, things are rapidly going to rack and ruin. I don’t know if so called savings have been made by ignoring legal responsibilities, but the cost of putting things right could well be more in the end than the ill-thought-out savings.

My request to the Scrutiny Committee is to urge the Council to put things right by pushing for something like this 5 point plan – 

  1. To seek to ensure that Blackpool Council can take on its full legal responsibilities for Rights of Way in the area. This will surely need resources, both financial and human.
  1. To survey the 12 km of the 47 Public Rights of Way in Blackpool, with a view to seeing what needs doing to ensure that the Council has met its legal responsibilities.
  1. To organise the maintenance of the paths that are already reasonably accessible.
  1. Where paths are totally inaccessible, to find temporary diversions for 6 months with signs and maps shown. During this period, carry out the serious work needed to get the paths open again.
  1. The Scrutiny Committee could seek regular reports on how the work is progressing, and then perhaps annual reports about the state of the 47 rights of way in Blackpool, and whether they are all open for community and leisure use.

I am happy to share this presentation with you by emailing it in tomorrow with links to the information I have referred to.  

Thank you for listening to me.

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Useful Information – 

Blackpool Rights of Way – 

https://www.blackpool.gov.uk/Residents/Parking-roads-and-transport/Roadworks-and-road-maintenance/Public-rights-of-way.aspx 

Legal Responsibilities on Blackpool Council over Rights of Way – 

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/public-rights-of-way-local-authority-responsibilities 

Marton Mere visitor websites, rightly encouraging people to visit– 

https://www.visitblackpool.com/detail/marton-mere-local-nature-reserve-43270/ 

https://www.blackpool.gov.uk/Residents/Parks-and-community-facilities/Parks,-playgrounds-and-community-facilities/Marton-Mere-Local-Nature-Reserve.aspx#ad-image-0

Below is a walking route website about Marton Mere which includes a drone video. It has links to two maps, one of which is an Ordnance Survey Map showing Blackpool Path 11 Right of Way as a pink dashed line ( but which is actually completely blocked from Preston New Road to the Caravan Park).

http://www.gps-routes.co.uk/routes/home.nsf/routeslinkswalks/marton-mere-walking-route# 

And here is the Ordnance Survey Map showing the blocked right of way as open – 

http://www.gps-routes.co.uk/routes/home.nsf/osmapdisp?openform&route=marton-mere-walking-route

Please note. One of the Blackpool officials who was at the site meeting with me over footpath 11 quite clearly had an encyclopaedic knowledge of all 47 footpaths in Blackpool. His knowledge would be invaluable in restoring those footpaths to full accessibility, and I would advise the Council to make good use of him while he is still available.