TONY JOHNSON: Wider paths, safer streets

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Wokingham
A team of volunteers from Evendons clean up their ward Picture: Tony Johnson

Walk along any of our borough’s footpaths outside the town centres and the odds are that you’ll need to stop to let someone pass, risk injury, or just give up.

The vegetation overgrowth has become that bad.

Lower taxes or a better borough?

Ever since ‘a penny on the rates’, there’s been pressure on budgets. But sometime in living memory, civic pride has morphed into cost-cutting.

For footpaths, things aren’t as dramatic as “Grassgate”, (The Wokingham Paper – June 3, 2016) when a poor contract led to poor service. But when people in wheelchairs or parents with toddlers can’t walk along in safety, something’s got to change.

Getting to the shops

Mole Road and King Street Lane footpaths in Winnersh were so overgrown that pedestrians were at risk of being struck on the head by an HGV’s wing mirror.

A report into WBC soon followed and shrubs along a fifty-yard stretch got cutback in line with the soil and roots on the path.

Better, but only half the footpath is useable.

Hyde-ing away

Across in Shinfield, there’s lots and lots of lovely new houses, but not much footpath maintenance.

Along Hyde End Road, the footpath’s so narrow that instead of widening it, a pair of fences block it and redirect pedestrians along a new pathway some 500 yards long.

While the new footpath is wide enough and well away from passing traffic, it’s so well hidden behind hedges and trees that many are scared to use it.

Overgrown and over-taken

Finchampstead’s footpath along Nine Mile Ride is an access route for Bohunt School, but encroachments from residents’ gardens have given WBC a headache.

Whether to take residents to court or to save the money (and the political embarrassment) by continuing to do nothing.

If the Council leaves it too long, they lose the land to residents through adverse possession, and those residents could find themselves liable for the footpath not being wide enough to stop accidents.

Joined up Path Foots

Among all this, you have to have some sympathy for Da Bildaaz on the North Wokingham Distributor Road.

One of them has had WBC’s approval to build a road with grass verges and footpaths alongside, while another has had WBC’s approval to build a road with footpaths and grass verges alongside.

In Tommy Cooper’s words – Footpath, verge: Verge, footpath. They don’t match.

Taking a broader view

Over in Evendons, the Finchampstead Road footpath from Heathlands Avenue to Molly Millars Lane is around 80cm wide (31.5”) only an inch or two wider than a wheelchair.

With some brilliant support from Wokingham Borough Council: providing publicity artwork; a good number of garden waste bags; plus their collection when filled; a councillor organised a community clear-path day for last Sunday.

Although overcast, around fifteen to twenty of the local community turned up and got digging.

Over two hours and 100 yards of doubled-in-width footpath later, the team were exhausted and wet, so the Two Poplars was a good place to call it quits and dry out. Another session is being considered for November.

A resident’s reaction

One clear-path volunteer (resident, not councillor) kindly shared their views the following day.

They’d seen one of the advertising posters and felt that it was for a good cause, since the footpath hadn’t been cleared back to the inner edge for over 20 years and had become rather dangerous.

He said that “if the Council don’t tackle the problem, then members of the community should” in order to improve everyone’s quality of life. He’d felt the effort was worthwhile and was ready to participate again.

The Last Word

Five different places, five different approaches.

But if WBC’s Climate Emergency programme is to succeed, footpath usage should rise as car usage falls – safely and freely. 

So which approach do you recommend WBC should take?

caveat.lector@icloud.com

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