At the Kent County Council Budget meeting last Thursday Conservative councillors voted down two Liberal Democrat proposals to fund urgent repairs needed to deal with increasing safety risks on Kent's Public Rights of Way and Country Parks. The money was to come from the £130 million of Government grants given to KCC for any extra costs of work needed to recover from the effects of Covid-19.
The lockdowns imposed by Government for much of the past year have been very challenging for many of Kent's residents. Getting out for a walk in a local Country Park or along one of our Public Rights of Way has been a valuable form of exercise and been a lifeline especially for families looking for somewhere to go in the lockdown. Country parks have often been the only local recreation sites where playparks, toilets and cafes have remained open.
Consequently, the number of people using some of Kent's Public Rights of Way and Country Parks has been double that of previous years, sometimes more.
But this has come at a cost with the extremely wet weather in recent months also taking its toll.
Many footpaths have become very slippery and uneven, especially around gates and stiles. Fences, stiles, footbridges and gates have also been damaged in places. Some walks have become impassable or so dangerous they had to be closed off.
Council officers are receiving many reports of damage which they cannot deal with, mainly because there isn't sufficient money available. In addition, a number of major repair and improvement projects have been put on hold indefinitely because of financial constraints.
Maidstone North-East County Councillor, Ian Chittenden, commented: "A key stretch of the Medway river path between Aylesford and Maidstone collapsed last year and had to be fenced off. This, like so many of our Public Rights of Way, is an important and much used thoroughfare. It is vital that it is repaired and re-opened as soon as possible."
Trudy Dean, County Councillor for Malling Central, added: "Country Parks like Manor Park in West Malling are some of the jewels in KCC's crown. It's been great to see visitors streaming in. Staff have worked to keep toilets and the cafe open. But it has come at a cost. Heavy footfall and heavy rain mean many paths have become extremely muddy and people are at risk of falling. Repair costs will be much greater than after a normal winter. But they must be done to keep the Country Parks open through next winter too."
At last week's Budget meeting the Liberal Democrats proposed two amendments totalling £1 million to provide for urgent repairs in Kent's Country Parks and Public Rights of Way. Both amendments were voted down by the Conservative group although supported by all other opposition councillors.
The £1 million investment would have been financed by drawing on the unused funds from the £95 million of un-ringfenced Covid-19 Emergency Grants which the Government has provided to KCC. A further £33 million of un-ringfenced Covid-19 Emergency Grant funding is promised for the coming year.
The Liberal Democrat proposal for £600,000 to repair Kent's Public Rights of Way was proposed by Ian Chittenden and seconded by Ida Linfield, County Councillor for Canterbury City South.
The Liberal Democrat proposal for £400,000 to be invested in Kent's 9 Country Parks was proposed by Trudy Dean and seconded by Ian Chittenden.