Fifty years on from the Countryside Act 1968, which required local authorities to signpost a public path where it leaves a road, many paths still lack signposts. The Open Spaces Society, Britain’s oldest national conservation body, now calls for an end to this scandal.
The Open Spaces society and the Ramblers were responsible for winning the signposting provision which was enshrined in section 27 of the Countryside Act 1968. This states that a highway authority (county or unitary council) must erect and maintain a signpost where a public path leaves a metalled road. The signpost must show the status of the path, eg whether it is a footpath (open only to pedestrians), a bridleway (walkers, horse-riders and cyclists) or a byway (open also to mechanically-propelled vehicles). If the authority considers it convenient and appropriate, the destination of the path and distance to that destination may also be given.
Says Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society: ‘Signposts are important because they give people the confidence to use and enjoy public paths, which are public rights of way and highways in law.
‘Although paths are marked on Ordnance Survey maps, many people are deterred from using them if there is no indication that a route is a public path. In any case, paths can be closed or moved making the maps out of date.
‘Without a signpost, a path can be a well-kept secret.
‘That is why we pressed for the inclusion of the signposting duty in the Countryside Act and why we are dismayed to find that there are still many missing signposts.’
The Ramblers’ Big Pathwatch survey in 2015 revealed that lack of signposts and waymarks was one of the biggest problems, with about 9,000 signposts reported as missing where paths leave metalled roads in England and Wales—despite the legal duty on local authorities to provide and maintain them.
Kate continues: ‘We are now gathering examples of where highway authorities are failing in their duty. We have numerous cases in Flintshire for instance and we shall continue to add to our list throughout 2018.
‘In this fiftieth anniversary year of the Countryside Act 1968 which gave highway authorities a duty to signpost, we want to see them make a real effort to ensure all their paths are marked.’
For more information please visit: www.oss.org.uk