17  years – and still waiting!

A FOOTPATH in Henleaze has not been registered after 17 years.

Bristol City Council has a legal duty to deal with applications to register a Public Right of Way “as soon as reasonably practicable”.

But a bid  to protect a path off Ridgehill, which was made in 2006, has not been processed.

And, councillors heard, that is not even the longest delay – an application in Hotwells is not completed after quarter of a century.

Registering a footpath as a Public Right of Way protects the public’s access to well used paths, particularly if a landowner wants to stop people using them. 

During a member forum meeting on Tuesday, March 14, Bristol mayor Marvin Rees blamed the delays on austerity, which began in 2010 when the Conservative government slashed funding for local councils across the country. But the oldest applications were  made when Labour was in government.

Conservative Councillor Steve Smith, representing Westbury-on-Trym and Henleaze, said: “I’m not trying to point fingers with this one. I think it would be a little unfair to try and blame you for something that’s been going wrong since before some of the members of this council were born. But do you accept that the council does have a clear legal duty here, which at the moment we’re not complying with?”

There are 11 outstanding applications which the council has not yet processed. The mayor said priorities were being changed to focus on paths obstructed from public use. He promised to provide updates on the lengthy delays “very soon”.

Mr Rees said: “We have lots of legal duties in the council and one of the things we’ve pointed out to the government is that we’re very stretched. The challenge we’re facing with local government finance now means that not only are our frontline services being challenged, but also our backroom capacity.

“Anyone will turn up with a placard for libraries, public toilets and parks, but nobody comes and says save our planners, save our lawyers. And yet it’s that backroom capacity that keeps these backroom processes working, and when they don’t work people get so frustrated. There’s a committee element to this as well, maybe it’s a taste of things to come, we’ll see. Some work is being done to reprioritise the work of the committee, alongside a piece of work with some national legislation, and we’ll streamline the processes and make decisions easier to come to.”

Cllr Smith replied: “While it’s unfair to blame you Marvin, I think it’s also a little unfair to blame austerity. This has been going on since Tony Blair was prime minister.”

 By Alex Seabrook, Local Democracy Reporting Service