Public footpaths across Lancashire could become more accessible for disabled people and the less physically active.
Landowners are being encouraged to replace worn-out stiles with gates – or even to leave the way completely unhindered. When the stepped access points come to the end of their natural life, it is the responsibility of the landowner to replace them so that public paths remain freely passable.
If a stile or gate was in situ at the time a footpath came into being, then it is permissible to replace it like for like.
However, if Lancashire County Council has to intervene to ensure the work is carried out, the authority is taking the opportunity to ask landowners to consider whether they need any barrier in place at all. If they do, County Hall may then offer to pay to replace a failing stile with a more easily-negotiated gate, the Lancashire Local Access Forum (LLAF) heard.
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Speaking after the meeting, the authority’s rights of way manager David Goode said the council is going beyond what it is legally obliged to do to maintain access – but that stumping up for a gate is often a more cost-effective option than trying to prove if there was any right for the stile to be there in the first place.
“These paths might have come into being 200 years ago – so we’ll be doing well if our records show whether it was a stile or gate back then,” he explained.
“So we ask landowners to give up their right to a stile and allow us to fit a gate to make the path more easily accessible.
“A lot of the people who might want to start using public footpaths for exercise are those that are less physically active and so might be deterred by a stile. They might be capable of getting over it, but will they choose to?”
But the gradient of the land can sometimes mean that a stile is the only option and the meeting also heard that the council is unlikely to pay for a gate if an old stile has been replaced with a new one before rights of way officers have had to intervene.
Landowners can also request authorisation for new stiles and gates which were not original features of a footpath across their land if they are now needed to control livestock.
David Kelly, from the Ramblers’ Association, told fellow LLAF members that the condition of stiles across Lancashire was “getting worse”.