I am sorry that people have been upset by the proposals that we are implementing along the river. I hope that what I say will give you some confidence that what we are doing is not going to cause the damage you fear and that the new path will fit well with its surroundings.
I will start with an explanation of why we have embarked on this project. A couple of years ago the local community undertook a consultation to examine the projects that people would like to see happen in Leatherhead. It was known as the Leatherhead Health Check. If you have access to the internet you can follow the thinking on www.leatherheadtomorrow.co.uk. One important project taken up by community representatives was the desire to improve access to the river for a range of possible users, especially disabled people. The path between the Town Bridge and the Thorncroft Bridge is promoted as a disabled friendly route, but it is far from satisfactory for this purpose.
The paths along the river are in various stages of disintegration. At the Town bridge end this is a rather horrible concrete path and there are other environmental improvements that could be done at the same time to enhance the natural qualities of the path. The middle section has all but disappeared under grass and there is no usable surface. The final section to the Thorncroft Bridge was surfaced about 10 years ago and has lasted well, but it is deteriorating and will need attention. This path was laid down at just over 2 metres wide.
The path surface we will put down will enable all users to pass along an all weather surface, winter or summer. It will be suitable for cyclists linking two off road routes to Fetcham and towards Dorking. The appearance and make up of this surface has been the subject of some discussion. Let me assure you that it is a material that will look good. The surface is largely made up of buff coloured chippings and so it will look like a smooth gravel path. The width of path will be no more that 2.2 metres, which is just a bit wider than the path that was laid to the Thorncroft Bridge . In places, where the path naturally narrows, the width will be reduced to accommodate existing features. This material is resistant to flooding and has been used along tow paths and other countryside locations. We will also replace and add seats manufactured by the Norbury Park Sawmills so that people have places where they can rest along the route. I am happy to confirm that no trees are being removed during the work.
There is natural concern about the impact on wildlife. We have, therefore, taken advice on this from the ecologist and fisheries officer at the Environment Agency, and one or two others with expertise. We also had to undergo a rigorous consent procedure for this work operated by the Environment Agency which looked at a whole range of possible impacts from water pollution, flood risk and environmental impact. This consent would not have been issued if there was serious danger of damaging wildlife habitats. Since the recent concern, we have consulted further with our colleagues at the Agency and they confirm that there is no reason not to proceed with these works from an environmental point of view. We are not excavating lower than the existing paths and we are employing a contractor who is skilled in countryside work.
We have worked with the Leatherhead and District Countryside Protection Society on this project and they are, indeed, helping to fund it. It is perfectly understandable that there is concern about this lovely area, but we feel that we are only restoring a well used path with a very good material and in doing so, other less advantaged people will be able to enjoy it too
Finally, there has been much discussion about access for the disabled at the Throncroft Bridge end. The gate with a radar key is intended for large off-road mobility vehicles. All other standard wheel chairs will be able to use the kissing gate. The wheelchair user pictured in the Dorking Advertiser will have no difficulty using the path and should, indeed find it easier.
We would welcome feedback when the work is complete. I hope they will be favourable, although it will take a season or two for the vegetation to grow up and the path to weather in. I hope you will be patient with us and understand that a great deal of thought and expertise has gone into the work.
Mole Valley District Council