Historic South Ribble footpath to be brought back to life - but campaigner says the area has been shortchanged

Campaigning couple Ann and Chris Nihill are not happy with the planned work
Campaigning couple Ann and Chris Nihill are not happy with the planned work
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A popular footpath in South Ribble is set to be saved, almost three years after a landslip forced its closure.

Known locally as “the 40 steps”, the path runs from the Holland House estate on the border between Bamber Bridge and Walton-le-Dale, down to the River Darwen and emerges on Higher Walton Road.

Just a few of the "40 steps" which have been shut off since a landslip

Just a few of the "40 steps" which have been shut off since a landslip

When water erosion caused adjoining land to collapse during winter 2016, Lancashire County Council shut off the steep route because it was deemed unsafe – and provisional dates for its reopening came and went.

But now the authority has found a way of reinstating the right of way – without needing to undertake costly work rebuild the embankment.

A neighbouring householder has agreed for part of their land to be fenced off and dedicated as a public footpath – and members of the council’s regulatory committee have approved the move. It means that the route will take a slightly different course, with a new short stretch of stone surface being laid to bypass the brink left behind by the landslip.

The 40 steps themselves – thought to have been in situ since the mid-nineteenth century and used by workers commuting to and from local mills – will be unaffected by the mini-detour, because they sit beyond the damaged section.

It has been too risky to ramble along this path for the past three years

It has been too risky to ramble along this path for the past three years

Lifelong Bamber Bridge resident Ann Nihill, 75, has been campaigning for the path to be brought back to life and was initially “chuffed” that its reopening is finally on the horizon - until she discovered that the new stretch will be just 15m long.

"It's an insult to the people of Bamber Bridge - I thought that after all this time they would have been doing a proper job and restoring the whole path, because it hasn't had any attention in decades," Ann said.

"They're only paying out £5,000 - you could barely lay a driveway for that and most of it will have gone on the new fence. The steps themselves are not in a good state, so we could have done with a parallel path putting in from top to bottom.

"If this had been in Hoghton or Dinkley, it would have been a different story - but it's only Bamber Bridge, so it doesn't matter.

Surface water flows down this gully

Surface water flows down this gully

“It’s a special place for people round here. Children of the 50s and 60s will remember playing on the slope next to the steps – and using cardboard boxes from Billy Whalley’s [general store] to slide down it.

“People of my generation spent their childhoods down here – and it’s still well-used today for more practical reasons,” Ann added.

Lancashire County Council was approached for comment.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service witnessed that one of the previously blocked off entrances has had the barrier across it removed – leaving people free to come and go along what is an officially closed route.

The remedial work is subject to the successful removal of covenants on the land where the new path will run. It is not known how long construction of the new stretch will take.

County Cllr Barrie Yates, in whose division the path sits, described it as “fantastic news”.

“The historic 40 steps will be preserved and will continue to be a well-used footpath,” he added.

But Ann’s husband, Chris, 79, says that the erosion problem should have been prevented when work on the Holland House estate was completed.

“There is no way that the water should have been left to run down the embankment from a pipe flowing into a wooden gully. That water should have been sent directly into the River Darwen,” Chris said.

A spokesperson for water company United Utilities said: “We did not build the collapsed outfall structure and we have never owned or maintained it. After we adopted the surface water sewer, we diverted it to a better outfall location. The landslip is a matter for the landowner and developer.”

Craig Ward, technical director for Redrow Homes, which developed the Holland House estate, said: “All works carried out at the time were completed in accordance with the approved plans. The area was inspected by the local authority and formally adopted some years ago. We have received no contact from Lancashire County Council regarding the matter.”