A FOREST of Dean section of one of Britain’s longest footpaths has been without Public Rights of Way protection for 37 years, thanks to a bureaucratic blunder.
The 150 mile Wye Valley Way is enjoyed by around 20,000 walkers every year but the section which spans the River Wye at Lower Lydbrook has been closed for more than two years due to safety fears.
But emergency repairs to the Black Bridge have revealed that, when the footpath was established in 1981, Gloucestershire County Council failed to have it registered as a Public Right åof Way.
The oversight came to light when the county council agreed to temporary repairs after a lottery grant bid for more permanent repairs was rejected.
Forest of Dean District Councillor Andrew Gardiner has written to the county council asking them to include the bridge in the definitive rights of way map of Gloucestershire.
He said: “Having long been engaged in the issues concerning the deterioration and safety of the bridge, the crucial fact is that it was never registered as a public right of way and left as a permissive access.
“Perhaps the error was due to a technical misunderstanding. We now need to urgently register the lovely old Black Bridge.”
Cllr Gardiner said the issue was raised some years ago but the registration process was put on hold pending the outcome of the lottery bid.
He added: “I am now therefore sending a letter requesting the County Council to consider speeding up this procedure or indeed due to circumstance it may be possible to immediately be determined as a right of way RLW1 and added to the Definitive Map without further delay.”
Cllr Sid Phelps, chairman of the Black Bridge Steering Group, said: “The Herefordshire half of the bridge is an official public right of way but the Gloucestershire side is not.
“We are not sure whether this affects the county council’s legal obligation to maintain the bridge as a right of way but obviously we are concerned.”
At the time of going to press the county council has not responded to a request for clarification over the bridge’s legal status.
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