RESOLVED that this Council notes the exceptional countryside in Gloucestershire and the significant economic and cultural benefits that this already gives to businesses and residents within the county.
However, this Council recognises that the county’s countryside could be made safer and more accessible for people, including walkers, those with limited physical movement and equine users.
This Council also recognises that relatively small infrastructure changes could further cement the county’s position as a tourist destination of choice for country pursuits. Such improvements could include, but are not limited to:
1. Safe connections between walking routes and bridlepaths
2. Gates on walking paths and bridleways that are more accessible for all users and easier to open on a horse
3. Well-drained surfaces in gateways
4. Parking facilities on popular routes
This Council resolves to send this matter to the Environment and Communities Scrutiny Committee, for consideration on how the Council and the Local Enterprise Partnership can work with the tourist industry to turn Gloucestershire into an centre of excellence for walkers and equine users, helping businesses develop new and innovative practices.
4.1 As the original proposer of the motion at full Council on 28 November 2018, the Chair invited Cllr Colin Hay to introduce this item and explain the background behind the motion.
4.2 The Committee heard that the equestrian industry in Gloucestershire is fit and well, this motion was not an attempt to revive an industry that wasn’t working properly but rather to promote and improve this important sector for the County.
4.3 Gloucestershire is well known for its equine facilities in terms of; racing, the Hartpury University and riding for the disabled. It also benefits from an exceptional countryside which has significant economic and cultural benefits. There are however, improvements that can be done to solidify the County as a choice for country pursuits, especially for equine.
4.4 Members acknowledged that these improvements could include; making safer crossing points, improved gate access, better signage and safer walking/bridle paths that run alongside roads.
4.5 Promoting Gloucestershire in this way could see benefits both nationally and internationally, badging it as the safest place to walk and ride in the Country.
4.6 Cllr Loraine Patrick, as the seconder of the motion, informed the Committee that the equine industry in the County is huge. However, users experience missing safe links between bridle ways and gates are not suitably installed. The industry contributes a huge amount financially and better care is needed to allow it to flourish.
4.7 The Chair next invited Kath Haworth, Lead Commissioner for this area, to present the responding report.
4.8 The Committee were informed that the Public Rights of Way (PROW) network in Gloucestershire is over three and a half thousand kilometres, slightly more than the highways network. Keeping this network safe and accessible is part of the normal duties for the Council (especially points 1-3 in the motion).
4.9 Gloucestershire County Council (GCC) currently do a 10% inspection of the wider network to identify safety issues each year, meaning every 10 years the whole network will have been covered. Members were reassured however, that the Council is not working in a vacuum. It works closely with parishes, land owners and groups such as the AONB and horse riding associations to help keep track of any issues on the network throughout the year.
4.10 Officers advised that some members choose to use their Highways Local or Growing Our Communities funding to improve areas of PROW within their divisions.
4.11 It was also highlighted that bridle ways can be used by cyclist so this could be another key marketing tool for tourism in Gloucestershire.
4.12 On opening up to questions and feedback from the Committee, a member asked if these sorts of works could be funded by the Community Match Funding packages available from GCC. It was advised that as long as the works required were on the highway network, this would be a viable funding route for local areas. GCC would offer a 50/50 split with local town/parish/district councils to fund the works.
4.13 On questioning, officers advised the Committee that the department do receive a good amount of feedback and reports from the public throughout the year, although these only tend to be regarding the well used paths and areas. The reason for the 10% a year strategy as mentioned above is to make sure officers are reaching those less popular areas so these aren’t neglected.
4.14 Members noted however, that a lot of the work carried out by the PROW tend to be negotiating and enforcing (where legally able) when the rights and responsibility for an area of the network falls to another landowner. They may face issues of restricted accessibility, padlocked or inappropriate gates installed for example.
4.15 Members discussed various ideas for taking this project of improvement works forward:
· The Committee highlighted their unease with requesting all members to use their Highways Local/Growing Our Communities funding. It was appreciate that each member will have different strains within their divisions, and may not even have bridle/walk paths to maintain.
· There was a discussion about a bridle trail that runs from Great Barrington to Forthampton near Tewkesbury, called the Sabrina Way, which could be used as a starting point for identifying improvements and branching other routes off.
· The creation of a leaflet locating all the bridle/cycle/walk ways which could be included in tourism booklets.
· Working with specialised local groups who are keen to promote the equine industry and can help identify key improvements needed for horse riders when out on the network.
4.16 It became clear to the Committee that one of the main drivers for these improvement works would be economic growth, a lot of responsibility for which has been shifted from GCC to the GFirst LEP. Officers advised that the LEP have a capital projects programme, and currently bids were being produced for the 2019/20 submission for funding opportunities in the future.
4.17 It also became clear that currently officers were lacking the key data to be able to quantify a business case and produce bid for funds to do the extra works required. It was highlighted that for external organisations in the County such issues would be more mainstream and they would be aware of such data e.g. equine groups.
4.18 Cllr Hay and Cllr Patrick as proposer and seconder of the motion therefore agreed to liaise with external organisations involved in this industry to produce a list for GCC officers of areas they have identified need improving. This will then enable officers to gage the work/funding needed and produce a business case for improvement to PROW from an economic growth perspective and to form part of GCC’s submissions to the 2019/20 LEP funding opportunities.
4.19 The Committee will receive an update on progress at their next meeting in July.