Kent Ramblers

Ken Wright

Ken Wright

This profile of Ken by Jeff Seaman was first published in Kent Area News in Autumn 1999.

The study at Ken Wright's home in Bromley is crammed with files and books relating to footpath issues.  On the evening that I visited him to find out about his joint roles as Chairman of the RA Kent Area Footpath Committee and Footpath Secretary for the Ramblers' Bromley Group, he showed me just some of the paperwork that he has to process.  There is an awful lot of it.

Ken has been a member of the RA since 1984; Footpath Secretary for Bromley for 11 years and Chairman of the Footpath Committee since February of this year.  He has a comprehensive knowledge of the laws relating to footpaths, most of which he has acquired by personal research and experience.  "We have 60 local footpath secretaries in Kent" Ken explains.  "We try to have at least one in every area but it's not always easy to find enough volunteers.  Most of the local FP secretaries hold down demanding full-time jobs and have to fit their Ramblers' roles into limited spare time.  That speaks volumes for their dedication".

Ken is retired from full-time work but even so, he has to be careful to control the amount of time he spends on footpath work.  "Sometimes I spend all day, and then the evening as well, working for the Ramblers.  If I let it the work could take up twelve hours or more a day, seven days a week.  And if I let that happen I'd never get out to do any actual walking or anything else come to that!  Keith Potter, who is Area Footpath Secretary, is also retired and does far more work than I do. He does so much work, as well as walking, that I suspect he never sleeps!"

Because he is a local FP secretary himself, Ken Wright is ideally suited to chair the Area FP Committee.  He is obviously a 'hands-on' Chairman, thoroughly conversant with the role that FP secretaries perform, and thereby understands and shares their concerns and difficulties.  Ken told me that the role of the FP secretary is " a bit elastic".  A job description does exist; it may change from time to time, but for Ken the primary objective of the job will always remain constant; to represent the interests of walkers by ensuring that the footpath network is kept in good order and that no paths are obstructed. "And how", I wanted to know, "are these objectives achieved?"  The answer is almost always via the County Highway Authority, because footpaths are very much part of the Queen's Highway as Ken was keen to point out. "Anyone blocking a footpath is, in effect, and certainly legally, committing the same offence as someone blocking a road or, come to that, a motorway!"

Ken Wright and the FP Secretaries (No! that's not a new pop group) have pretty close and regular contact with the Highways Dept. of the KCC.  Feedback on obstructions, poor signing and other FP problems comes mainly from members who encounter such problems when they are out walking.  These problems feed through to the local FP secretaries who then refer them to the RoW Officer at County Hall or, in some cases, to the Unitary Authority.  "The role of the FP secretary is largely but not totally a reactive role", says Ken.  "The problems come in and one has to deal with them.  The volume can be substantial.  But we also get involved in a pro-active manner.  For instance, the Bromley Group approached the Council to offer help with surveying RoW".  Apparently, the Council has performance indicators, one of which requires them to maintain the FP network in good order.  However, they don't have the resources to survey the paths.   Enter Ken Wright and his band of volunteers!  Job done!!  Bromley Council were able to meet that particular performance indicator and take steps to ensure that the path network for which they are responsible is in good order.  "But quite frankly, the average FP secretary is overburdened", says Ken, "so it is always going to be hard for them to find time to take the initiative.  And the RoW Officers are also overloaded.  So it can be time-consuming to get things done, anyway".

Ken Wright leaving the 2010 AGM

However, Ken is keen to stress how much he enjoys his dual roles, and when he talks about his work for the Ramblers his enthusiasm is palpable.  Clearly, most FP secretaries feel the same. They are dedicated, enthusiastic people without whose work the FP network would, undoubtedly, be beset with problems.

There is no doubting Ken Wright's knowledge and expertise.  He could probably mount a successful case himself, but when it comes to obstructions it is only the Highway Authority that can actually prosecute a case through the Courts.  This is why obstructions are referred to the RoW Officers at the Highways Department.  "Generally, they will do something about it".  The law is quite complex.  Landowners have a statutory responsibility to clear path obstructions, but all is not quite as straightforward as that statement would have one believe.  For instance, the Highway Authority is responsible for the actual surface of a path and, indeed, for undergrowth, but the landowner is responsible for ensuring that overhanging vegetation does not impede the way.  Furthermore, and this was a complete surprise to me, landowners can authorise horseriders and/or cyclists to use a footpath but if, as a result, the surface is damaged the Highways Authority has the power to force the landowner to repair the damage at his own expense.

As well as dealing with problems raised by members, FP secretaries also deal with Diversion and Extinguishment proposals, and, in many cases, co-ordinate and lead the opposition.  Helpful guidance comes to the attention of FP secretaries through the Rambler's regular publication "Footpath Worker".  Ken also keeps a close eye on the Definitive Map and the accompanying Statements which give very detailed RoW information. His 'bible' is "Rights of Way - a Guide to Law & Practice" by Riddall and Trevellyan.

Some cases, inevitably, end up at a full Public Enquiry and, as Ken points out, when that happens the workload entailed in putting a reasoned and convincing case can be substantial.  On some occasions confrontations with landowners are unavoidable but, thankfully, fairly rare.  Ken's background, which included a spell as pay negotiator during the Heath era, makes him well-suited to negotiate through difficult cases.  As he has only been Chairman of the Area FP Committee since February he has yet to meet all of the Kent RA local FP secretaries.  However, he is determined to do so.  He is very keen on Keith Potter's initiative in planning training sessions to make the Area's FP organisation as professional as possible.  The problem, of course, for both trainees and trainers, is time.  Ramblers in Kent are well served by Keith Potter, Area FP Secretary, and by Ken Wright and the 60 local FP secretaries whose dedication and hard work help to protect our interests. We are often unaware of the work that they do but without it our footpath network would be only a shadow of what it is now.

Ken Wright was interviewed by Jeff Seaman who is a member of the Maidstone RA Group, living in Sittingbourne. He has "walked seriously"' for about 7 years. He is a Commercial Manager in the wine and spirits trade and edits his company's monthly customer magazine as well as contributing to several trade journals.


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