Who Owns Public Footpaths?

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Now that’s a good question. For many highway authority managers the answer makes them distinctly uncomfortable. Most that I have dealt with have been in denial of the simple statement laid out in section 263 of the Highways Act 1980….”every highway maintainable at public expense  together with the materials and scrapings of it,vests in the highway authority”.

Most public rights of way are publicly maintainable and therefore “vest” in the highway authority for so long as the path remains a public highway. Landowners do not own public paths across their property although they can use the land for certain purposes. Landowners usage and interest is secondary to the highway authority.

Culturally of course we all doff our caps and feel awkward in certain circumstances walking on “private land”. It’s only natural that this long established sense of inferiority to private landed interests extends to Council managers responsible for keeping public access open. Time and again here in Kirklees the law is seen as a bit of an embarrassment and “little arrangements” are made between those charged with enforcing the law and those breaking it.

Paths are built on, moved and blocked across the district on the strength of a nod and a wink from council managers and councillors acting as National Farmers Union representatives. These little arrangements are then protected by the substantial indifference of the Council as an organisation to do anything other than protect the seedy status quo.

This little piece sums up the situation very well and the final paragraph on why ownership matters is particularly relevant in terms of how both landowners and council managers currently behave.

Why does ownership matter?

If the local ‘landowners’ understood that they do not own the paths, or at least that any ownership is subservient to the highway authority’s ownership, then they might not feel such a sense of personal possession of these little public highways. And then they might treat them more like they treat the public roads which cross their holdings, and be less concerned at public use and less likely to try to move or to disturb these little ways.

If Highway Authority officers fully understood that the paths are their official property then that would help to direct their actions when for example local ‘landowners’ plough up their paths or obstruct them. It is the Authority’s property being messed with, it does not require even-handedness between the underlying landholder and the public.

And in certain cases the Path Officers can act at once under common law as owners of the paths without waiting for the sometimes tediously lengthy and time consuming statutory processes. Senior management at at least one Home Counties Highway Authority accept this in principle but have seemed reluctant to act, even in clear-cut cases (eg A footpath, part of the London Loop, complete pre Christmas blockage some years ago).

 

Colne Valley Footpath 144. Information Commissioner To Investigate Kirklees.

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In an attempt to  understand the Councils decision making process and it’s contacts with the landowner in this case PathWatch submitted a Freedom Of Information request to Kirklees way back in 2018. As we often find the publicly paid for Council was very reluctant to disclose anything at all. In fact all we got was a photo taken in a field on a wet summer day that could have been anywhere. That’s how valued engaged members of the public are these days. It wasn’t even a good photo….

After exhausting the councils internal appeals procedure we’ve gone on to the grandly titled Information Commissioner. Having looked at our case they’ve decided feel the councils’ corporate collar on this one.

More on this at a later date.

 

 

Scaly Gate Hepworth.”Unmaintained In Character Only”

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The shocking state of Scaly Gate . Unmaintained In Character Only?

Scaly Gate is another public road much used by walkers. As well as being popular locally it is also part of the Kirklees Way, a Council devised and promoted route. Scar End Lane  requires a skill set last seen in the New Testament for safe passage and is also part of the Kirklees Way.

It would be very easy to conclude that “Unmaintained In Character” is a more fitting description for the Councils Street Register as regards these neglected routes.

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Scaly Gate.

 

 

Is There Already Authority For A TRO On Ramsden Road?

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The “unsafe” Ramsden Road.

In the murky world of local government truth is a rare sight. PathWatch learnt from several reliable sources that the  2009 Cabinet Report On Ramsden Road.  never made it to committee. This is incorrect. The report went to Kirklees Cabinet on 16th June 2009 and was approved according to Councillor Jim Dodds in this email 2009-06-17 Re Cabinet 16th June 09 (1) The approval was a modified one which specified further discussions as a proviso. The decision is recorded here 2009-06-17 Re Cabinet 16th June 09  (TRO is a Traffic Regulation Order. ETRO is an Experimental Traffic Regulation Order. Both have been identified as required by the council to ban motor vehicles on a time limited basis from Ramsden Road)

Could it be that Kirklees Cabinet have already approved a course of action on Ramsden Road and that current actions by officers and councillors are going against this democratic and transparent decision? Why was this previous report and decision not mentioned at the public meeting held in Holmfirth Civic Hall on 22nd January 2019?

PathWatch has been asking who,when and why Kirklees made a decision not to continue with the new ETRO in December 2018 but has met a proverbial brick wall. From emails we’ve seen the Council is arguing in support of the new ETRO with Councillor Nigel Patrick up to 5th December 2018. However by the 10th December 2018 the councils’ approach changes abruptly and an email is sent out to a wide range of groups inviting them to the Civic Hall Meeting and completely dropping the new ETRO. Who made this decision and why?

There would appear to be a direct conflict between the professional view of council officers who have identified a need for a TRO on Ramsden Road and the two ward Councillors, Sims and Patrick, who are against it.

In May 2018 the Greenspace Manager wrote to Councillor Patrick advising “As to the issue with Ramsden Road, it is not safe at present, this is not being helped by the actions of a minority of users, but to make the route available for the majority of users then works need to happen, and they need to be allowed to bed in. This is why an experimental TRO is proposed rather than a straight TRO allowing the highways authority to take a knowledge lead approach to this and other similar routes on how best to meet the needs of users.” Has Ramsden Road been made safe in the intervening year? No it hasn’t. In fact it is in a worse state of repair. And yet the Council has stepped back from doing  any works on this “unsafe” byway and handed this responsibility to a group of enthusiasts.

The Principle Engineer,Highways Safety who undertook the initial consultation on the ETRO wrote “As a result of severe damage caused by recreational use of 4wd vehicles, the Council is proposing an Experimental
Traffic Regulation Order to close Ramsden Road to such traffic (other than those with land access rights).” A year later this aspect of the Ramsden Road problem has been quietly dropped to elephant in the room status. Yet the council spent some £8k of public money pursuing this ETRO up until December 2018.

Clearly the professional assessment of council officers is that any remedial works need to “bed in” and be protected from vehicular use for a period of time. This will not now happen and raises a serious question as to the sustainability of any future works paid for via funding from organisations like the national lottery heritage fund for instance. Will these potential funders be fully apprised of the council officers professional advice going back to 2006 that a TRO is required? Or will any future investment be vulnerable to failure because this aspect is ignored?

There is no consistency or transparency in the councils decision making process on Ramsden Road. We can find no committee, cabinet or delegated officer decision recorded on the December 2018 change of direction regarding the ETRO. The initial 2018 decision was delegated at officer level and the political portfolio leads at Kirklees were consulted. The 2009 decision was agreed at Cabinet. Both seem above board and legitimate. There doesn’t seem to be any formal record of an evidence based decision  overturning the identified need for a TRO or ETRO on Ramsden Road. Why not?

Principle Engineers and Green Space Managers are well qualified, experienced and trained on a wide range of technical specialisms. Both the quotes in this article are from this level of management at Kirklees. In contrast Councillor Patrick has had no training in public rights of way during his tenure as a councillor and in 30 years of sitting on the planning committee neither has councillor Ken Sims. This link  shows both councillors explaining their lack of training at a meeting in December 2018 (cllr Patrick at 8:15 and Sims at 25:55).

As a footnote Councillor Sims lost his seat in the local elections on 2nd May 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Repairs By Derbyshire CC To Chapel Gate Byway Fail

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link to Peak District MTB site reporting the rapid & catastrophic failure of this infamous Byway in the Peak Park.

A dramatic example that stoning up these routes is a technique extremely vulnerable to failure on Pennine slopes. A number of recently repaired bridleways in Meltham have suffered the same fate. A timely warning perhaps that any future repairs on our very own Ramsden Road are incredibly prone to something similar. Ramsden Road will be exposed to the twin assaults of weather and motor vehicles.

Ramblers Must Walk On Water Say Council

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Peak & Southern Footpaths Society Stalwart Benny Rothmans walking on water across Scar End Lane New Mill. Watched by some Whitby fishermen in fancy dress.

And so it was told in the Book Of Big Excuses 14:22-33 (and that council email the other day) “Behold Rambler, Scar End Lane,New Mill. The great sea of Neglect rises forth each winter. Do not be afraid. It has been a long walk into the night. Fear not the storms. For it is maintained in character only. But have ye faith. For we will not repair it. Nor will you be forgiven your trespass into the next field. Step forth and come to me. Walk on the water.

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Scar End Lane New Mill. Refreshments are available to Ramblers who successfully walk on water. Loaves & fishes apparently but there’s quite a que 🙂

More Crap On Colne Valley Footpath 144

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The latest Kirklees Council approved crap dumped on Colne Valley Footpath 144.

The long running saga of Colne Valley Footpath 144 is rapidly approaching a first birthday! The council has managed to turn a relatively straightforward case of fly tipping on the path into an impressive comedy of errors. PathWatch may even write a book about it as we’ve written so much rubbish about the ..er…rubbish. See here here here here here  and here

The thing to remember is that legally the council is not a neutral player on many matters concerning public rights of way. It has a statutory duty to “assert and protect” the rights of the public to use rights of way and a duty to “prevent their stopping up”. The Council, it’s officers and councillors are duty bound to act in the public interest and with integrity at all times.

Seen through the prism of legal and procedural responsibilities it is difficult to fathom how a situation like that on Colne Valley Footpath 144 can be allowed to develop and continue. The council would appear to be doing the opposite of what it is legally obliged to do. It continues to permit dumping on the path along with its continued closure.

Any reader of this blog will know this is not an isolated case but pretty much par for the course for a rights of way problem in Kirklees.

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Tipping in a new spot. Nice one.