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Protesters outraged over path project

Cheshire West and Chester Council's improvement work at Cuckoo Lane leads to claims of vandalism

Residents, including protest organiser Geoff Holland, left, partway down the footpath of Cuckoo Lane in Little Neston(Image: Rob Stratford)

Cuckoo Lane in Little Neston is said to predate the English romantic painter John Constable by centuries.

But so many path lovers pitched up to protest at the laying of 500 tonnes of recycled road surface to improve the route that a PCSO attended as well.

Outrage at the effect of the £30,000 project on the character of the ancient way, described as a unique, possibly 700 year old feature of the landscape, erupted when contractors and their equipment appeared before Christmas.

Cheshire West and Chester council insists it is carrying out essential works on Cuckoo Lane
 

Activist Geoff Holland, a footpaths officer for Wirral Footpaths and Open Spaces Preservation Society, immediately contacted the borough council to say he was ‘extremely concerned’ about the work.

He argued sandstone surfacing on the attractive path, perhaps dating back to the 1300s, should not be covered over as advised by the council’s archaeologist and ways should be found of preserving it as an integral feature of the historic routeway.

Cuckoo Lane in Little Neston
 

Mr Holland added, however, ‘it appears that the archaeologist’s advice is being ignored completely and this historic, medieval trackway is being destroyed’.

He asked for all further work by the contractors to be suspended to allow a full assessment of the historic considerations.

Mr Holland was backed by author Anthony Annakin-Smith who said: “I understand that one of their reasons is to improve the local cycle network but, despite being a keen cyclist, I can see no justification for this particular piece of work given the proximity of the Wirral Way.

“Please can someone in authority stop this pointless destruction.”

Mr Annakin-Smith is also concerned that ‘no detailed plan appears to have been put forward locally for consultation before the work started’.

The council argues the project is needed to improve the surface of the lane which runs from the Wirral Way on Chester High Road to Gorstons Lane.

Cuckoo Lane, Little Neston, after it has been widened as part of council resurfacing works
 

Little Neston and Burton councillor Kay Loch (Con), the borough’s public rights of way chairman, insists the surface is often ‘muddy and impassable.’

She says the work, involving widening the bridleway and bringing on the recycled road planings, will be a ‘substantial improvement’.

Cllr Loch points out the scheme was presented to a meeting in Neston Town Hall in the summer and that no comments had been made at the meeting or since, until work began.

She explains there is no requirement for public consultation on maintenance work and archaeologists and ecologists were consulted and their comments taken into account.

At a protest meeting on the way, attended by scores of local people, Cllr Loch handed out a statement which stated:“Whilst appreciating the historic character of Cuckoo Lane, we aim to ensure that our ancient routes are fit for purpose for current users.”

A different view comes from Labour councillor Louise Gittins, who also represents Little Neston and Burton, who has accused the council of an act of ‘environmental vandalism’.

She says local people are ‘outraged at the complete absence of consultations or information’.

“Work started with absolutely no warning,” claims Cllr Gittins.

“A fleet of diggers proceeded to dig up the bridleway and lay a thick layer of chippings.

“This is vandalism of our countryside and there is huge public distress and anger.

“I share the complete sense of outrage residents feel.

“Work needs to stop immediately and the council needs to explain exactly what is going on.

“Is this the future for footpaths across Cheshire West and Chester?

“It is very worrying indeed.”

The council points out it was awarded funding in 2012 to improve links between residential and employment areas.

This included a contribution for the Neston area and connections to the Wirral Way.

“Building on the pedestrian and cycle route recently constructed from Burton to Deeside, the council was approached and asked to investigate the potential of improving access to the Wirral Way and subsequently Neston town centre and Hooton Station by improving Cuckoo Lane to make it accessible for all,” according to a statement.

“Cuckoo Lane is a bridleway with access rights for the farmer and his vehicles only and is predominantly used for walking, cycling or by those riding horses.

“We want to make the pathway accessible to all users in all weathers including those with small children or with limited mobility.

“We have a statutory obligation to maintain public rights of way to a reasonable and safe standard and Cuckoo Lane was judged to be in a poor state and at times inaccessible for most.”

The council insists that so far as vulnerable users are concerned, Cuckoo Lane was highlighted by a number of local people including councillors and by its sustainable transport team, Public Rights Of Way and Ness Gardens.

The council’s ecologist and archaeologist were among those consulted, resulting in approvals.

Planning consent was not required, says the council and public consultation was not mandatory but officers discussed the project at the CH64 Transport Group in July, mentioned by Cllr Loch and signage was also placed close to the site.

It adds:“Whilst the archaeologist’s report asked for sandstone to be preserved where possible, the sandstone at this location is rutted and a potential trip hazard and part of our duty in maintaining the route is to remove such hazards.”

Referring to concerns the work has been undertaken to improve the area for cyclists, the council explains:“This scheme was designed to provide better access for pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders in equal measure.

“It was felt that this rural pathway was not suited to a smooth flat surface due to the mix of users and the need to control the speed of cyclists.

“For this reason a rougher planing surface has been selected which is suitable for pedestrians cyclists and horse riders alike.”

The council believes the works, once completed, ‘will see many more local people being able to access the pathway at any time of year to enjoy it, travel to work via it or connect with nearby areas’.

With work due to resume in mid January, although residents hope there will be a rethink, council director John Jeffrey has said he will make further inquiries and has asked for the concerns which have been raised to be looked at.

He believes, however, the work is ‘very necessary’.

 

 

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