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Proposal to plough extra £1million into repairing footpaths in Kent rejected by Conservative county councillors


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Calls to put £1million towards repairing unsafe walking routes in Kent have been rejected by council chiefs.

Kent County Council's (KCC) Conservative administration voted against the proposal to plough extra cash into fixing "urgent" safety problems with footpaths in the 12 districts and the county's nine country parks.

The North Downs Way in Kent is among the many routes that have seen more walkers during lockdown
The North Downs Way in Kent is among the many routes that have seen more walkers during lockdown

It comes as people continue to be encouraged to walk outdoors for fitness and mental health wellbeing during the pandemic.

There has been a major increase in walking in the countryside which has resulted in some routes "deteriorating" and becoming dangerous, according to KCC's Liberal Democrat group.

They called for additional financial support during a virtual meeting of County Hall's £1.1billion budget vote last Thursday, as a 5% council tax rise was agreed from April.

Maidstone county councillor Ian Chittenden (Lib Dem), main opposition environment spokesman, said the condition of footpaths were getting "progressively worse" in the County Town and becoming more "costly" to fix.

A section of an Aylesford path near the industrial estate off Forstal Road, close to Junction 6 of the M20, partially collapsed 11 months ago.

The footpath collapse near Forstal Road industrial estate in Aylesford
The footpath collapse near Forstal Road industrial estate in Aylesford

It has been forecast that it will cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to fully repair. The path is due to be mended in the Spring and is on a priority list.

At the meeting, Cllr Chittenden added: "I feel we are doing a disservice to the residents of Kent. I worry there will be accidents and us who are to blame."

Also warning of the dangers, Cllr Ida Linfield (Lib Dem) said she broke her knee walking on a footpath opposite her house recently.

The Canterbury City South member said: "Some of our footpaths are impassable and need work on them.

"I tripped over a tree root which has been there for 30 years. I could have sued KCC for that.

"People are climbing over fences to avoid the mud and floods. The parks have become a victim of their own success."

"We are aware of their condition and responsible for them. We should do something about it."

Meanwhile, Kent's nine country parks have been described as a "lifeline" for families during lockdown, with "astonishing" visitor numbers in the last 11 months, increasing by around 60%.

Cllr Trudy Dean (Lib Dem), whose nearest site is the 52-acre Manor Park Country Park, in St Leonards Street, West Malling, said: "All of this has come at a heavy price. Gates and entrances have become severely damaged.

"People are climbing over fences to avoid the mud and floods. The parks have become a victim of their own success."

The Lib Dems suggested using unallocated cash from KCC's £140m government grant for the Covid emergency this current financial year to spend on urgent repairs.

Manor Park Country Park, West Malling. Picture: Matthew Walker
Manor Park Country Park, West Malling. Picture: Matthew Walker

In response, County Hall Conservative executives revealed that a "modest" sum of £150,000 of cash had already been allocated to help maintain the public rights of way network for the next financial year.

On Thursday, KCC's finance cabinet member, Cllr Peter Oakford (Con) said: "It is not a bottomless money pot, otherwise there would be more in the budget."

At least 54 Conservatives voted against the £1m uplift while 13 Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green councillors voted in favour, meaning the motion was defeated.

Read more: All the latest news from Kent

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