Riders campaign for access

  • Riders in Staffordshire have been forced onto busy roads by council’s closure of disused railway line to horses

    Riders in the Newcastle-under-Lyme area are campaigning for a route that has been used by riders for nearly 40 years to be reopened after the local council made it impassable for riders.

    The route follows a disused industrial railway line, which was closed in 1963, and according to Julie Smith, secretary of the Freedom Bridleway Association, has been used regularly by local riders since the tracks were removed in 1966.

    “Although the route has never been officially classified as a bridleway, riders have always used the ‘loopline’and there has never been a problem,” explains Julie.

    The route became inaccessible for riders when Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council revamped it earlier this year, tarmacing the surface and adding kissing gates to restrict access.

    I can’t even walk my Great Danes along the route as they are too big to negotiate the tight kissing gate. How cyclists manage I really don’t know,” says Julie.

    The bridleway group would like the council to follow neighbouring Stoke on Trent city council’s example by installing step-through troughs instead.

    “At the other end of the route Stoke on Trent city council has used step-through troughs which allow access for horses, pedestrians, cyclists and pram users, but prevents the dangers associated with off-road motorcyclists.

    “Newcastle-under-Lyme borough council’s actions have forced many local riders, including children, to use dangerously busy roads to reach other routes whichwere previously accessible via this route.”

    Newcastle council is quick to emphasis that a number of bridleways exist within Birchenwood Countryside Park, which is situated close to the loopline.

    A spokesperson said: “Riders never had anyrights to use the route as it is not, and has never been, a bridleway. The decision to create a walk and cycleway was taken following lengthy discussions with the local community. The majority of people surveyed did not want horseriders to have access to the route as it is not very wide and there were concerns about safety.”

    The bridleways group disputes this claiming there is sufficient room for walkers, cyclists and riders to co-exist happily.

    “There is plenty of room for horses to walk alongside the tarmaced path which the council has put down,” says Julie. “Simply replacing the kissing gates with a ‘step through’ trough would enable a much wider selection of the community to use the route. Even cyclists would find it easier than the present system.”

    The Freedom Bridleway Association held a public meeting on 11 September, followed by a demonstration on Saturday 14 September along the roads which riders are now forced to take.

    “We are expecting around 200 people to attend the protest,” says Julie. “We have invited the council to attend both the public meeting and the protest but they have declined.”

    To find out more about the Freedom Bridleway Association email: FreedomBridleway@aol.com

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