Interview with Thomas Kennedy, Countryside Access Improvement Plan Officer in Kent County Council


Tom Kennedy, you are working for the Kent County Council on the “Countryside and Coastal Access Improvement Plan”. Your approach of ecomobility as a factor of attractiveness for Kent territory has been selected as a best practice by PASSAGE project partners. Can you explain your missions in a few words?

Our work aims to enhance public access to the countryside and coast by developing Kent’s Public Rights of Way network. This is a unique network of legally protected paths that provide walking, cycling and horse riding opportunities for residents and visitors across Kent.

How can it contribute to increase the attractiveness of Kent territory and what specific opportunities are offered by the development of ecomobility products?

The Public Rights of Way network provides opportunities for low carbon travel across Kent. We have developed walking and cycling routes that connect residential neighbourhoods with schools, community facilities and places of employment. These access links enable the public to actively travel as part of their daily lives. This helps to reduce the number of short distance car journeys, address increasing traffic congestion concerns and enhance the environment 

In addition to active travel, the public rights of way network provides opportunities for outdoor recreation and leisure activities, which support and encourage low carbon growth in the rural economy. This is demonstrated by the development of the England Coast Path, a new national trail that will eventually circumnavigate the entire English coastline. The trail passes through areas of outstanding natural beauty, connecting coastal communities with tourism attractions for visitors to explore by foot and bicycle.

The development and management of paths dedicated to pedestrians, bikers or riders must be quite a challenge for an authority like Kent County Council. Who are your main partners on the ground? What are the main difficulties you are facing? What can still be improved to enhance the potential for attractiveness?

We work with a diverse range of stakeholders to successfully manage and promote the public rights of way network. We consult local user groups to identify potential network improvements, negotiate new access developments with landowners and collaborate with tourism partners (including Visit Kent) to promote the region as a tourism destination. Their marketing work is valuable to enhance public awareness of walking, cycling and horse riding opportunities available in Kent.

Managing the public rights of way network is a challenge as we have to carefully balance public access with private landowner interests. One of the main difficulties is that the volume of requests received by our service exceeds the level of resource available within our team, so we have to carefully prioritise our work and manage public expectations.

Looking forward, we can improve the public rights of way network further by enhancing the quality of existing network infrastructure, ensuring paths are attractive and accessible to use. We would also like to deliver public aspirations for new routes that provide outdoor recreation opportunities and connect existing paths together, as this would help to establish a modern integrated network of sustainable transport opportunities for the public to enjoy.

Do you think a similar approach to ecomobility can be implemented in other maritime border regions? What would you advice to the local authorities?

The legally recorded public rights of way network is unique to England, but off-road walking and cycling routes can be found across Europe. These low carbon modes of transport bring social, economic and environmental benefits to Kent, which can be replicated in other regions.

Our plan for improving the path network is customer focused, based on extensive public consultation that has identified user demands and aspirations for access improvements. This approach of listening to the public and producing countryside access improvement plans based on their feedback could be successfully applied to other maritime border regions.
I would advise local authorities to listen carefully to their customers and stakeholders so that public aspirations and user requirements are clearly understood. It is also important to invest time and energy with local stakeholders to establish productive working partnerships. This is because you will need their help to deliver new schemes and manage trails in the long term future if you want to maximise the potential benefits of ecomobility.

Thank you!