Sunday, 15 December 2019

Walkers protest over path closure

Walkers protest over path closure

CAMPAIGNERS are to stage a special walk near Henley on Saturday in protest at the closure of a public footpath for more than a year.

The “peaceful” demonstration will begin at the start of the path opposite Henley Rugby Club and go along the River Thames as far as Fawley Court, where the path is blocked by a wood barricade.

This follows the closure of the path by Buckinghamshire County Council after a wooden bridge on the route collapsed in October last year.

The reconstruction of the bridge has been beset by delays, angering walkers who use the path but have been forced to use the busy Marlow Road, which has no pavements, instead. The Fawley Court Estate says it shares their frustration. The council, which is responsible for the narrow bridge, was supposed to have installed a new one in June but contractors were unable to carry out the work because of poor weather and were delayed until August to avoid a clash with Henley Royal Regatta.

Then the council said it was working to secure vehicle access in order to take in the heavy wooden timbers. The latest bridge closure notice expires on December 16.

James Lambert, from Mill End, who is one of the protest organisers, said he had been in touch with the council many times over the last four months to ask when progress would be made.

He said: “There have been numerous opportunities to do the work but always at the last minute something happens. There is a real degree of anger as the council has had half a dozen opportunities to do the work and now we are approaching Christmas when nothing gets done as the weather takes a turn for the worse. I would guess that it could be spring before we get any further.

“I don’t think they have any understanding about the level of noise that this bridge has not been put back. It is putting people’s lives in danger having to walk along that road. We just want the bridge put back.”

Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Henley-based Open Spaces Society, said: “The protest will see us walking the route up as far as you can go to the obstruction to make the point and demonstrate that the footbridge is missing.

“It is awful not only for locals but also for visitors who come here to go walking.”

A council spokesman said: “The council is continuing a dialogue with the landowners involved so that a replacement bridge can be installed as soon as possible. In the meantime, we are sorry for the difficulty that the ongoing closure is causing for people wanting to use the footpath.”

Helen Morris, legal counsel for the Fawley Court Estate, said: “The Estate has been the custodian of the footpath for the past 11 years.

“It shares the frustration of the local community, having co-operated extensively with Buckinghamshire County Council since the collapse of the bridge in October 2018. 

“The Estate has experienced extensive delays when dealing with the council, which has sole legal responsibility for the footpath and bridge.

“The Estate last wrote to the council several weeks ago and has not received any response. An alternative route is again the sole responsibility of the council, which has extensive powers to put such provision in place.

“The repair of the pavement outside Fawley should have been undertaken by them to ensure safe passage. The Estate joins the local community in seeking a resolution of these issues as soon as possible.”

Walkers are asked to meet at 11am. The event is supported by the Henley and Goring Ramblers, Henley Walkers are Welcome and the Chiltern Society.

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