Mrs Lynne Thompson
2 West Cottages
Northumberland NE67 5DR
Mr C A Crossley
Dear Mrs Thompson
Reopening of Footpaths
Thank you for your recent e-mails concerning the Craster to Dunstanburgh Castle path. I apologise for my delay in providing a full response.
I note the contents of the letter from the National Trust to the Journal. As a significant landowner in Northumberland the Trust was of course informed of the County Councils new policies on those paths which should remain closed and those which may be reopened. We have co-operated without any disagreement of which I am aware on the reopening and management of the Craster-Dunstanburgh path and neither I nor anyone else in the County Council has placed pressure upon the National Trust. I am sure if you write to the Trust these points will be confirmed.
The issue of replenishing the disinfectant mats was addressed in my last e-mail and whilst this problem should not recur I will welcome any reports from you on that or any other management issue.
Whilst I would acknowledge that we acted without the knowledge of transmission risks when we were, I believe, the first county to close its rights of way network this has certainly not been the case when reopening outside restricted areas. The full month which elapsed between receiving the guidance and taking action enabled all elements of the guidance to be considered and allowed confirmation that control had been gained over the spread of the disease in Northumberland. Should there by any return of foot and mouth disease in Northumberland we will, of course, respond with path closures in affected areas. You should be aware that the Government is shortly to revoke the powers of local authorities to make blanket closures of rights of way.
We must agree to differ on the risks of the lady with a mother in Cumbria being a high risk FMD carrier. The choice of wording is, I admit, confusing but an Infected Area does not mean that the people living inside that area are likely to carry infection. Infected areas were defined essentially to control the movement of stock. Foot and mouth disease has been primarily transmitted through stock to stock contacts, through the transport of stock and by the movement of individuals who have physical contact with stock. There is no evidence that the general public using rights of way have contributed to the spread of the disease nor of oral transmission between humans. The EU requirements within 10 km zones relate, as I recall, to the movement, transport and gathering of animals and contain no reference to use of paths by the general public.
I do wholly agree with your references to the need to maintain strict biosecurity controls on farms. The quotation from the governments chief scientific officer Random movement of animals, people and machinery are still spreading the virus was directed towards the farming industry. Although I do wholly sympathise with the frustrations of the local farmer who is seeing movements of his own stock and family restricted these are for the time being necessary precautions. As with any disease, there are high risk carriers and animals and people which offer negligible risk. An effective disease control policy must focus on proven risks. I do have regular meetings and other contact with DEFRA and I can assure you that any information which is imparted to us on disease movement or recommended precautionary measures is and will be acted on immediately if it is relevant to Northumberland.
The public (and tourism industries) were extremely supportive of general path closures when the disease was spreading in Northumberland. Now that it is widely known that the risks of spread by the general public are slight and that government guidance does not approve comprehensive closures that support has understandably diminished. It will not be possible, in my opinion, for any County Council to maintain blanket closures once the government formally rescinds that power in July. The County Council has, I believe, acted wholly responsibly in focusing path closures within the areas where there may still be risk and in doing so we do appear to have re-captured public support.
With regard to the meeting during which two county councillors apparently sought to persuade me to change County Council decisions I can assure you that this is a complete invention. No such meeting has ever taken place with me and as I have no authority to make or reverse the policy decisions of the County Council there is no purpose in such a meeting taking place. I hope you are satisfied now that the County Councils decisions on the reopening of paths are based on a balanced assessment of risks and needs. If you do, however, still wish to influence any change then your contacts with the Leader of the County Council are more appropriate.
I can assure you that I am neither insensitive to concerns of farmers with whom I spent many hours in conversation in recent months, nor am I ill-informed about disease transmission risks. I do share and support your concerns about the potential return of foot and mouth disease but I do believe that the policies we are following in Northumberland are the correct ones at this current stage in the disease outbreak.
C A Crossley
Countryside Service Manager