Moves to improve and increase the number of routes for walkers, horse riders and cyclists in the Yorkshire Dales National Park have been pushed forward as concerns were raised over the lack of funding from a local authority with overall responsibility for maintaining rights of way.
A meeting of the national park authority’s finance committee saw members approve using some of the £440,000 the Government announced earlier this year as an additional one-off sum for each national park authority to assist with financial “difficulties”.
However, the meeting heard the extra funding would do little to resolve financial issues created by “12 years of underfunding” for the authority.
Nevertheless, members were told £240,000 of the funding could instead be used to further develop the Hawes to Garsdale multi-use route on the former railway trackbed.
The scheme was initiated last year as the terrain of the Yorkshire Dales can be challenging for people with limited mobility, wheelchair users or those with young children because of its gradient or surface conditions.
Three multi-user routes have already been established at Malham Tarn, Greenfield Forest and in Swaledale and the park authority’s Management Plan has an objective to create one further family-friendly route by 2024.
Transport campaigner Ruth Annison called for reassurances that the Hawes to Garsdale route would be protected for future railway reinstatement,.
Responding, David Butterworth, the authority’s chief executive, said: “Nothing we do should prejudice the reinstatement of the railway, should there ever in the future be a Government at national or local level that was so keen on the reintroduction of railways that it wanted to push a route through there again.”
Mr Butterworth added while the authority was already the lead body for the Pennine Way and the Pennine Bridleway, it was hoping to have a conversation with the Government and its agency, Natural England, about taking responsibility for the Coast to Coast route.
The meeting heard the majority of funding for rights of way maintenance was provided by National Trails, alongside contributions and donations, from the Three Peaks Project and events.
Members were told the park authority had delegated responsibility to manage rights of way in the national park, but there were no contributions towards that from either North Yorkshire or Westmorland and Furness councils.
Mr Butterworth said: “That’s problematic because although we have got delegated authority the legal responsibility for rights of way rests with those two bodies.”
He said while Westmorland and Furness Council had accepted the principle that they should be funding part of their statutory responsibility for rights of way in Westmorland, North Yorkshire had not.
The meeting heard members would be tasked with deciding whether any contributions from the councils was sufficient, whether they accepted the quality of rights of way should be reduced or if they wanted to hand back responsibility for the routes to the councils.
However, member Libby Bateman told the meeting the authority already had “an awul lot of access routes that are not accessible”, including a bridleway she described as “highly dangerous”.
She said: “My concerns are we are investing in new routes, but for some reason we can’t seem to get the current routes into action.”