The real reason for not closing the towpaths over coronavirus

Published: Tuesday, 02 June 2020

IS CART planning to transfer the responsibility of looking after the towpaths onto the local councils, asks Keith Gudgin?

And is this the real reason it would not close the towpaths to protect boaters from coronavirus?

Will become public rights of way

An interesting theory has been forwarded that the real reason CaRT would not close the towpaths during the lockdown is because if the public has access without restriction for over 20 years then they will become what are legally termed highways or, effectively, public rights of way, and this would then mean they become the responsibility of the local councils' highways departments.

The website states:

'The lack of clarity in common law as to what constitutes a ‘sufficient period’ of public use led Parliament to enact a law about presumed dedication. The law is now set out in section 31 of the Highways Act 1980, which says that if a route is enjoyed by the public for 20 years or more, as of right and without interruption, the path is to be deemed to have been dedicated as a highway, unless there is sufficient evidence that there was no intention during that period to dedicate it'.

Public paths by next year

The last time the towpaths were closed was during the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001. This means that in 2021 they will have been open to unrestricted public access for 20 years and as far as can be ascertained BW/CaRT did not/have not shown any intention during that period to prevent their dedication as highways meaning they will become public paths/bridleways by default next year!

If this is not their intended plan will CaRT now, publicly, provide sufficient evidence to show that they have no intention that the towpaths become highways as required by law or are they intending that they do become highways by default when the current 20 year period expires?  No response from CaRT will, in my view, prove that it is their intention, will it not?

Extremely disturbing

I find this extremely disturbing if it is true as I feel boaters will have been deliberately put into a position that could potentially result in serious danger to their health and wellbeing purely for the apparent financial gain of CaRT!  What appears to be the deliberate acts of not closing the towpaths during the lockdown and knowingly exposing boaters to the risk of catching the coronavirus for ulterior motives is absolutely disgusting in my view and warrants a public enquiry!

It has been noticed that CaRT will always ensure that a diversion is in place when any section of towpath needs to be closed for any reason!  This ensures that the 20 year open period is maintained!  It also explains the apparent reason they would not put any obstacles along the towpaths nor impose any speed limits to slow cyclists down or have not maintained or replaced the gates that are already in place?

Financially advantageous

Why would it be financially advantageous to dump the towpaths onto the local councils, you may ask?  Well for a start, the maintenance of them would then be down to the local councils and not come out of CaRT's budget resulting in huge savings.

CaRT would not be responsible for cutting the grass or hedges along them.  They would not have to maintain the surfaces, boundaries, access, gates etc or fill in holes.  They would also not be responsible or liable for any accidents or incidents.  They would also not be required to maintain disabled access etc. either!

Not known for maintaining paths

In my experience, local councils are not generally known for maintaining little used public paths in the country-side so this could result in vast swathes of towpath being totally unusable or unsuitable for any activity be it walking, cycling, running, fishing or most importantly, mooring boats!

As most boaters will have already experienced in many places, CaRT would not need to maintain access to the edge of the canals so boaters can get on and off their boats!  Breaches involving towpaths could also become the responsibility of the local councils with all the added delays in getting them repaired!  Any preventative maintenance to towpaths will also cease to be a CaRT responsibility!

Run be different authorities

As far as I can see it will mean that each stretch of towpath will be run by a different authority with different rules and priorities.  Boaters, walkers, cyclists etc. will not know what rules apply to which stretch nor will they have one port of call for any problems or complaints.

We will then have to deal with the familiar dictatorial petty bureaucrats in multiple departments in multiple authorities with the ensuing red tape, buck passing and increased delaying tactics and excuses we are all familiar with from local councils.

Will anyone challenge CaRT

One has to ask are any of our so called caring canal associations prepared to take up the gauntlet and challenge CaRT on this?  Or, are they just going to apparently lay dormant and appear to let CaRT dictate what they can think, as appears usual nowadays?

Then again, if perhaps someone from one or more of the local councils who will be given the financial and legal responsibility for the towpaths in their area reads this and starts asking questions in the right places...?

Or even, dare I suggest, perhaps a boater or two might like to have a word with their local councillor or MP or what have you?