THE poor state of public footpaths in Powys is having a negative impact on the “visitor economy” councillors have been told in a damning report.
At a meeting of Powys County Council’s Planning, Taxi Licensing and Rights of Way committee, on Thursday, March 16, councillors received a report on the work of the council appointed Local Access Forum (LAF) from April 2021 to the end of December 2022.
LAF chairman, Graham Taylor said: “I came to this committee with a similar report about 18 months ago and the committee noted the parlous state of rights of way in Powys – it’s very sad that the situation hasn’t improved and in some respects is worse.
“Last time I talked about 8,000 reports of problems reported by the public, it’s now more than 10,000 – that’s a lot of problems.”
He explained that problems reported back in 2019 were still not dealt with four years later and there was need for: “effective enforcement action on flagrant breached of legislation.”
Mr Taylor: “It gets in the way of access and sends the wrong message to that small minority of landowners who are able to block footpaths and rights of way without any comeback.
“More and more paths are blocked, overgrown or inadequately signposted, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to use them.
“Many visitors are very disappointed to find only about a third of the rights of way are actually usable and accessible.”
He knew of walking groups from Shropshire, Herefordshire and elsewhere that have stopped coming to Powys because “they can’t guarantee the footpaths are open and ready to use”.
Mr Taylor pointed out that during Covid-19 lockdown, Snowdonia in North Wales had experienced overcrowding issues as people flocked to the mountains for excercise.
He believed that if the rights of way were up to standard, some of those people could be enticed to visit Powys.
Mr Taylor said: “That’s directly impacting in the visitor economy, this is a big, missed opportunity.”
To improve the situation, Mr Taylor believed that money which could be received as community benefit from potential windfarm developments could help “build up the council coffers” to improve rights of way.
Improving signage could be done by applying for grant funding from the UK Government’s Shared Prosperity Fund.
Cllr Gareth E Jones is also a member of the forum and said: “The team (countryside services) does a fantastic job with very limited resources.
“I would say the issues are significantly under reported and must be 20,000 to 30,000 in total.
“The key is the health and wellbeing of people.
“We could reduce the budget in social services by a significant amount if we had an improved set of paths and bridleways.”
“We need to work with NFU (National Farming Union) and FUW (Farming Union Wales) to inform landowners and farmers in particular of what their responsibilities are.”
He believed there was a need for the council to “develop and direct” resources to countryside services in future budgets.
Cllr Angela Davies said: “There are clearly problems there is a lot more that can be done, and the rural economy is important to all our wards.”
The committee thanked the LAF for all its work.