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Friday, 19 September 2014

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Footpath probe pensioner applies to work for Sustrans charity

A pensioner has vowed to continue clearing up a footpath which sparked a police probe.

Jim Higgins photo
Jim Higgins

Jim Higgins is going to keep working on improving the area near his home in Moor Row, Whitehaven – despite safety concerns raised by the footpath owner Sustrans.

The 65-year-old is at the centre of a police investigation after he removed a section of fencing as he cleared the footpath.

Sustrans, a charity which promotes outdoor activity, reported him over the removal of the 130-metre section of Victorian railings, which were on top of a wall running alongside part of the Coast 2 Coast route of the National Cycle Network.

Mr Higgins insisted he only ripped the railings out because his dog had become impaled on a hidden spike.

Eleanor Roaf, the charity’s north west director, said the removal prompted safety fears because dangerous spikes were left in the wall.

Mr Higgins has put his clean-up operation on hold ever since.

But he told the News & Star he is now so fed up with the fiasco he is prepared to start the work again – as a volunteer for the charity he is at loggerheads with.

He said: “I’d been working on the footpath for more than a month before the police got involved.

“I stopped doing anything else because the whole thing has got me so downhearted. I really want to finish it though so I thought the best thing to do is to become a volunteer.

“I have filled out all the application forms. I’m still waiting to be approved but I’m going to carry on with the work anyway.”

Mr Higgins says the area still needs a general tidy-up and he has to finish off his homemade bench – even though Sustrans has said it will be removed.

He also says he hasn’t heard anything more from the police, but the ordeal has affected him so much he can’t sleep and is losing weight.

But he has been heartened by the support he has had from the local community and passers-by.

He added: “Six Australians walked past the other day and asked me if I was the guy who got into trouble for doing all this work. All the locals have backed me throughout.”

Mr Higgins also claims he has been told to carry on his work by another volunteer helper for the charity.

He said: “He told me not to lose heart and to keep going because he and his fellow volunteers would resign if the police charge me.”

Sustrans director Eleanor Roaf said she has already asked Mr Higgins to join a project looking after wildlife and habitats on the route.

She added that the charity needs regular volunteers to maintain the path and is keen to hear from anyone else interested in helping out.

“We welcome anyone who wants to get involved with improving our paths,” Ms Roaf said.

“But we do ask that you get in touch with us before you start work as our infrastructure must be maintained to a high standard, and many areas are kept wild for nesting birds or other wildlife.”

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