Huddersfield Byway 231 is a delightful green lane across unspoilt farm land right on the edge of Huddersfield. It’s been enjoyed by local walkers,riders and cyclists for decades. A couple of years ago the landowner made an excellent job of blocking it off completely with piles of manure,branches,tree trunks, barbed wire and a caravan.
The Council served several statutory notices on the landowner (based on legal records showing the byway on the Definitive Map & Statement) entiltling them,as highway authority, to remove said obstructions and reclaim the costs. So that means the Council could clear the public right of way on behalf of the 50 plus members of the public who reported the blockage but at no cost to the public!
A no brainer you’d have thought? You’d be wrong!
In fact the Council has decided to leave the bridleway closed (in direct conflict with its’ legal duty to do the opposite) for almost two years. Even the threat of being taken to court by a local riding group could not move the Council to fulfill it’s legal obligations.
Path Watch has written to both the Director and Assistant Director of Place (the senior managers responsible for rights of way at Kirklees) asking for an explanation. The reasons given include “The council is now considering its position as to how best meet its statutory obligations whilst still balancing actions in light of the wider public interest.” which seems odd given the Councils’ explicit legal duty to keep public rights of way open. What more is there to consider?Another reason given is ” the Council percieves that any future works to clear the obstructions would simpley be replaced by other new obstructions to the route” (Yes they really did say that). Again an odd justification, a bit like letting serial criminals off the hook because they’ll only do it again?
Sadly it gets worse. The Councils’ actions are not “cost neutral”(thier buzzword) but have in fact cost the public some £14,000 in unspecified legal fees and a further £5,000 to £10,000 payable to Leeds City Council for hiring a member of staff to “investigate the status of byway 231”. So the best part of 20 to 24 grand to look at something Kirklees already know the answer too. These investigations are almost open ended and in the meantime Kirklees Council advise no action will be taken to reopen the byway which is in direct conflict with it’s statutory duties.
I think it’s reasonable to ask why Kirklees council is taking this approach? Why is it taking no action to open a public byway that 50 members of the public have reported is obstructed? Why has it spent £14,000 on legal fees and up to £10,000 on an “external resource” to research the status of this byway when it already knows the answer? Why has it served several legal notices but not followed this through with enforcement action?