SAFEGUARDS should be put in place to protect Pendle’s countryside access service – or the borough’s renowned Pendle Walking Festival could be harmed.

That is the view of Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors, who fear the unit could be decimated by anticipated budget cuts.

The nine-day walking festival took place last September attracting more than 1,500 people and featuring 77 different walks.

Labour councillor Robert Allen has recently conducted a scrutiny review of the service, and recommended that it continue to be managed on behalf of Lancashire County Council.

Extra protection for Pendle’s rights of way network, overseen by the countryside access officer, was also urged.

But the borough’s joint Conservative and Lib Dem executive, while supporting the service’s principles, has expressed concern about calls for three years’ guaranteed funding for the section.

Coun Allen said he had heard rumours that the jobs of two officers employed within the unit may now be at risk.

He added: “The feedback I have received from the countryside access forum is that this is a fantastic service which is very highly valued.

“I urge the council to look very closely at this before they consider any cuts to this particular service.”

Coun Graham Roach, the Liberal Democrat scrutiny chairman, added: “I think that if we lost this service then we would be doing the borough a disservice.

“We have the number one free walking festival in the country.

“The executive has taken on board most of our recommendations on this and I can understand what is being said about the three-year expenditure.”

Coun David Whalley said that the borough had 610 kilometres of pathways and the countryside access unit performed a ‘vital’ role in keeping many routes open.

Council leader Coun Joe Cooney said that the issue would be debated with the county council at Pendle’s three-tier forum.

“It provides an excellent service and when we come to the budget process this year then I am sure that will be taken into consideration,” he added.