RESIDENTS of the Wye Valley fear “ridiculous” delays to register a key footpath across the river could lead to the loss of an historic former rail bridge.

An oversight by Gloucestershire County Council means that one side of the Black Bridge at Lydbrook, which connects the Forest with Welsh Bicknor in Herefordshire, is not registered as a public right of way.

The council failed to register it on its definitive map when the footpath was established in 1981, while the Welsh Bicknor side was registered by Herefordshire Council.

The footbridge is part of the 136-mile Wye Valley Way, and is used every year by more than 20,000 walkers.

The oversight came to light when Gloucestershire County Council agreed to temporary repairs to reopen the bridge, after a lottery grant bid for more permanent repairs was rejected in 2018.

After four years, the path has still not been formalised and residents fear the lack of legal protection puts it at risk of closure.

Lydbrook Parish Council vice chairman Sharon Norris said the situation is “absolutely ridiculous”.

She told the Local Demoracy Reporting Service: “We’ve been fighting for this for years now to get it restored. It’s part of our heritage and it’s just ridiculous we haven’t got the footpath sorted.

“Lots of locals use this bridge on a regular basis and we don’t want to lose it. It gives us access to all the other footpaths.”

Parish councillors have expressed concerns about the impact a closure would have on the local economy.

Cllr Colin Gibbons said: “If this closed it would take money out of the Forest and Lydbrook.

“The walkway would come to a halt and all that income is gone. Places rely on trade. Not only the people but the campers as well. The shops are the ones that would lose out.”

Local resident Maurice Phelps, whose son Sid represents Lydbrook on Forest of Dean District Council, has called for certainty over when the path will be registered.

He said: “I would just like to know when the formalisation of the footpath is finally going to happen.

“Can we have a date please? We’ve been waiting four years and wonder if it will ever happen.”

Councillor Terry Hale, who represents Drybrook and Lydbrook at Gloucestershire County Council, says the bridge is too important to lose, and has also complained to the authority about the delay.

“It’s important to the community but we’ve been brushed off,” he said.

“All the stuff which was going to drop off and hurt somebody has been taken away and scaffolding was put up as a walkway.

“This will always stay open because it’s part of the Wye Valley walk. It’s a link that has got to be maintained. This is too much of a heritage bridge to lose.

“I was promised it last year and then the next thing I hear is that the wire bridge at Tintern and the other one was going to be done before this one which I’ve complained about.”

A Gloucestershire County Council spokesperson said: “The county council remains committed to legally recording public footpath rights across the historical Black Bridge, and is working hard behind the scenes to make this happen. The council has recently undertaken safety work on the walkway, which we installed in 2018, to allow walkers to continue using this important footpath.”