Last week Kirklees Council held its very first Virtual Cabinet Meeting. This measure has been brought in to maintain social distancing and stop the spread of Covid 19. It fundamentally changes the way local councils work. Although the meeting was broadcast live there were no active public participants.
Public rights of way matters are dealt with at the councils Planning Committees and at the moment these have been cancelled. The public can normally attend and speak at these meetings. The meeting to consider diverting Holmfirth Footpath 60 for instance was well attended by members of the public who successfully argued that the proposal should be thrown out.
The direction of travel suggests it is likely that planning committees will be held virtually in future. The council need to give serious consideration on how to accommodate proper public debate and scrutiny into this process. Simply accepting written questions or arguments is not sufficient in my view. Without robust public challenge both for and against, councillors will be tempted to nod through poor and badly thought out proposals. The easy option.
At the moment Kirklees Council are approaching consultations on public rights of way in the usual Del Boy manner. It has recently made and advertised a diversion order for Spenborough Footpath 110 entirely within the period of Covid 19 restrictions. The effect of the restrictions make it illegal for any person to visit the diversion site to assess the proposals they are being asked to comment on! As an organisation Kirklees seems happy to disenfranchise public engagement with path users in a way it would never contemplate doing with private landowning interests.
The Council is also consulting the public on an application to delete Cone Valley Footpaths 212 & 213 at Shooters Nab, Marsden. Again this is being undertaken at a time when the Covid 19 restrictions remain in force making visiting the site illegal. Nor is it possible to visit the Wakefield Archives to research background information on the case.
Both these cases are important and should be undertaken in an open and transparent manner. In Spen 110 the Council is both the developer and applicant for diverting the path for its own benefit. Colne Valley Footpaths 212/213 is an application to delete two public paths. This applications is 16 years old! The consultation letter discourages the public from visiting the paths that the consultation refers to.
During the current situation, in line with government guidance, I must also strongly discourage people from making special journeys to inspect the paths in question
It does not look good that Kirklees is progressing both cases in the current circumstances. The council should not just do things properly but be seen to be doing so. This would once again appear to be a case of senior council managers being out of step with the spirit of the process and what is actually going on in the real world out side Civic Centre 3.
At the same time Kirklees is point blank refusing to progress a number of long standing obstruction issues and develop a coherent approach to its chaotic use and interpretation of BS:5709 . It’s excuse? Covid 19 restrictions !