There was mixed news for North East walkers yesterday as a report claimed some councils were not maintaining rights of way properly.
The region emerged as the best in the country in the annual Paths in Crisis survey by the Ramblers organisation but campaigners said they were still concerned at the poor quality of some local paths.
South Tyneside was named as the seventh worst area in the country for the most problems per mile of rights of way. Ramblers are concerned about Gateshead where attempts to set up a volunteer team to clear paths had failed because the council did not have any staff to support them.
Campaigns officer Anastasia French said: “The North East emerged as the best region in our report this year. Northumberland and Durham are both doing well but there is a mixed story from the Tyne and Wear authorities, all of whom are short of staff and not giving sufficient priority to paths in their areas.
“Gateshead Council does not keep records of path problem reports and have previously cut staff by 50%. We’ve tried to work with the council to set up a volunteer team but they don’t have the staff to support it.
“South Tyneside Council has a large number of outstanding path problem reports per mile of rights of way having previously cut their rights of way budget by 66%. We are particularly concerned about Gateshead because Gateshead Council’s own survey showed that half of the paths in the area have problems on them.
“Our volunteers are very keen to give up their time to help fix some of the problems but, because there are so few staff, it means that there’s no-one to manage the Ramblers work.”
Ms French said Durham County Council was getting better and had prioritised problems, especially in urban areas, after recovering from cuts in previous years.
She said volunteers were working hard in Northumberland with the county council on new initiatives to try and keep paths protected.
The survey revealed 100,000 problems with rights of way nationally that had not been fixed.
The Ramblers say walkers face issues including barbed wire, flooded paths and missing signposts, stiles and bridges. Chief executive Benedict Southworth said: “We’re calling on councils to work with us to help get these paths back on track.
“We have volunteers across the country that regularly go out to clear paths, fix stiles and build bridges but without council staff to work with our volunteers, and liaise with landowners, it is becoming harder for our volunteers to help.”
No-one from Gateshead and South Tyneside Council were available for comment yesterday.