MORE than 100 people packed into a public meeting tonight to hear a grim assessment of the costs required to repair a section of the Wherryman's Way footpath along the Chet near Loddon.
The stretch between Loddon and Hardley Flood has been closed since last summer. This evening representatives from Norfolk County Council and the Broads Authority made it clear they thought the cost of repairs meant the present route should be abandoned for good. Many villagers at the Lecture Hall in George Lane, Loddon thought otherwise and made their feelings known forcefully.
Russell Wilson, senior trails officer with the county, told the meeting that the footpath between Loddon and Chedgrave Common would reopen by June, with the old matting surface being replaced with a more hard-wearing one made from granite. But further downstream he painted a picture of a path all but washed away. Bridges were unsound, entire banks had disappeared and the situation was getting worse almost day by day. There were, he said, no quick fixes. Providing a new footpath would cost at least £250,000 but providing the firm foundations beneath it would require extensive piling and that would cost between £1.5m and £2m.
Adrian Clarke from the Broads Authority was even more blunt; telling an occasionally bad-tempered meeting that "the grim reality is that the money we are talking about here is astronomical". It wasn't the Broads Authority's responsibility to maintain footpaths, he said, and because the path itself wasn't on a flood defence, the Environment Agency could walk away too.
The best alternative, said Mr Wilson, was to work with the local landowner to provide an alternative route on the other side of Hardley Flood, while still offering views across it. Negotiations here appear to be at a very early stage.
Loddon's boatyard owners were well represented at the meeting. They insisted that breaches in the wall between the Chet and the Flood were already affecting the level of the river - and therefore the viability of their businesses. Mr Clarke promised that the Broads Authority would "maintain navigation" but said they had no plans to repair breaches.
Other villagers talked of the impact on tourism and the sheer beauty of the Hardley Flood section of the walk. "You are writing off two communities," said one. Some also questioned the figures. There was also criticism for a perceived lack of maintenance. "You spent all this money setting up the Wherryman's Way, how have you allowed it to get this bad?" was a typical comment.
I asked about the total budget of the two organisations. The Broads Authority income is approximately £7m a year, I was told, the footpaths department of the county council about £500,000. Faced with such massive potential repair bills, there are certainly no easy answers.