Do you use footpaths? Not the sort of pedestrian footpath that runs alongside a major road, but the ones where you can get away from traffic for half an hour and stretch a few underused muscles. If you own a dog, the answer is certainly ‘yes’. If you’re trying to compensate for too much time in front of the TV, you may well also appreciate somewhere to take a quiet, or brisk, stroll.
Walkers in Longstanton are not exactly spoilt for choice. In the winter virtually every footpath in and around the village becomes a swamp. This has been the case for as long as anyone can remember and the situation seems set to take a turn for the worse.
Two or three years back Gallaghers, the phase 1 Northstowe developer, closed the public right of way known as ‘footpath no.5’ when groundworks began for building work. At the time, they told us that the path would reopen when the state of the site made it possible. Footpath no.5 is – was – the one that led from the end of Magdalene Drive next to the playground across the golf course to Crabtree Corner. It was a useful route for anyone from the south side of the village to the Busway Park and Ride and was a favourite haunt of dog-walkers. Even though it was subject to flooding in the winter, the open nature of the path meant that a way round the wet areas could usually be found.
A ‘temporary’ diversion path was opened around the edge of the Northstowe site while the official right of way was out of use. When that became impassably muddy, Gallaghers were persuaded to lay a rudimentary hard-core surface on the muddiest parts. That did little more than displace the mud a few metres to one side or the other so a little later more hardcore was added. This second dressing in particular was of very poor quality and is difficult to walk on, much less push a buggy along.
Gallaghers have now applied to make the diversion of footpath no.5 permanent. With hindsight this is hardly surprising – it is difficult to see how the existing right of way can continue once several thousand houses have been built on it. Nevertheless, traditional rights of way are a feature of the British countyside and someone needs to wave a flag for them. The proposed alternative is problematic in a number of areas:
- As a route between the south side of the village and the busway, it is significantly longer
- It increases the distance that needs to be walked alongside the busy B1050, which now also includes a number of major junctions that did not previously exist
- It passes alongside a stagnant lake and a long stretch of deep, unfenced and water-filled ditch that are a potential danger for children
- It rapidly becomes overgrown with nettles in the spring and summer, requiring on-going maintenance
- With the increased height of the land to the east of the path, the flooding issue may well be exacerbated
The loss of the existing footpath no.5 is a loss of amenity to Longstanton. The proposed permanent replacement is a poor substitute, especially in its present state. Gallaghers have an opportunity here: provision of a good all-weather surface over the full length of the proposed new permanent path – one that can be negotiated without hiking boots – would turn a loss for the village into an amenity that people would value. While little can be done to make the B1050 a more friendly environment for pedestrians, we would also urge the developer to address the last three points listed above – protection for footpath users from water hazards, overgrowth and flooding.
Do you use this footpath? Did you use the old right of way? For what purpose? What are your thoughts about the imminent irrevocable loss of the old path? What do you think should be done to make the new path a valuable amenity for the village?
Please respond to this article by leaving a comment.