Essex Highways has agreed the closure of the footpath from the River Walk in Witham to the town park “for six months or until the works have been completed, whichever is the earlier”.

The closure takes effect on Monday, August 30, with the alternate recommended route to town and the park being via Bridge Street/Newlands Street/Kings Chase.

The footpath is used by residents of Helen Court to access the town and for families to safely reach the schools south of the River Walk as well as to the park, town and railway station for others. 

There will be a negative impact on education attainment for those unable to get their normal morning exercise and fresh air as they deem the diversion unsafe. 

This is in addition to the closure affecting the physical and mental well-being of those unable to use the route they normally feel safe on. As people will walk and cycle less, there will be an increase in childhood and adult obesity levels. 

The closure will force residents to increase their carbon footprint by taking more car journeys. Those walking alternate routes along the public highway will increase their exposure to nitrous oxide.

When Braintree District Council and Essex County Council accepted Bellway’s very low car movement values, the developer said it wouldn’t significantly add to daily car movements on the Maldon Road. By closing the path, daily car journeys will increase significantly, even before a piece of turf has been cut.

Now that the road has been approved, the path does need to be closed for a reasonable period, but the three years originally applied for and approved by Braintree planners was simply vindictive. Six months to construct a site access road is quite a long time and should only be around three months.

The developers have said that “we will maintain single lane vehicular traffic from Helen Court at all times during this period, which will be controlled by either signals or traffic marshals”. 

That being the case, Braintree should provide a footpath around the perimeter of the sports field using the access track to the garages that runs parallel to Maldon Road and then along the top of the sports field. A precedent has already been set by the approval of a new path south of River View.

While the developers have said “until the works are completed, whichever is the earlier” they can apply to extend the closure for up to another year. They have also said “construction works” without specifying what they mean and so progress cannot be assessed. 

Who will ensure the contractor is doing the works in a timely manner as fast as possible and not dragging their feet and further inconveniencing the public? While they have told Braintree that “during the construction phase the current sports ground footpath owned by BDC will be temporary suspended and an alternative route will need to be taken”. They have also said that “it is anticipated the construction process will take approximately three years to complete”. 

Fortunately some two years ago we started to arrange for the footpath to be converted to a Public Right of Way.

This means that it cannot now be summarily closed by BDC and that legal processes are now required, meaning that closure can only be extended for 12 more months.

If Bellway apply to Essex Highways for an extension after six months they have to respond to the question “Are there any known complaints regarding this closure?”

Dudley Chignall
Heart of Witham Preservation Group