PathWatch can exclusively reveal the all new Kirklees standard for structures on public rights of way! The standard known as Not To Standard But Acceptable (this is not a joke.Ed) has recently been launched on a Holmfirth path.
Most Highway Authorities in the UK use BS5709 which is the British Standard drawn up and agreed by representatives of Natural England, CLA, NFU, OSS, BHS, Disabled Ramblers, IPROW, Highway Authority and a gate designer in a long process involving opportunity for public comment . It has been around for 40 years and was recently updated in 2018. BS5709 allows the widest range of users to access public paths and is compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act. The Kirklees Not To Standard But Acceptable standard appears to be based on…er…keeping certain councillors happy!
Councillor Nigel Patrick has previously expressed his opinion on BS5709 and his displeasure with officer decisions granting authority for structures (gates) on public paths to BS5709. As recently as 16th November 2019 Councillor Patrick wrote to Karl Battersby ( a strategic director at Kirklees) saying he thought BS5709 was “only advisory and not law” He also said to Mr Battersby on 18th November 2019 that “a complaint that it is not to British Standard is not a complaint that needs to be addressed if it is usable” The whole point of BS5709 is that these structures can be shown to be “usable” because they meet certain accessibility criteria laid out in the standard. The Kirklees Not To Standard But Acceptable standard amounts to nothing more than subjective opinion.
However Mr Battersby has recently agreed to authorise a number of Not To Standard But Acceptable structures on a Holmfirth path following Councillor Patrick’s intervention. In a 13th November 2019 email Mr Battersby advises Councillor Patrick that the council will be contacting a landowner to advise “their structures are not to standard but acceptable.”
This raises a number number of genuine concerns. Firstly this decision has been taken behind closed doors and out of public view. It shows Kirklees Council ditching a widely recognised British Standard on accessibility in favour of something completely unspecified and unauthorised on a public highway. Who decides what is an acceptable structure on a path? Is this a decision in the public interest? Will the Not To Standard But Acceptable standard be rolled out to all other landowners in Kirklees? Why is a Strategic Director on a £125,000 per annum salary making decisions about gates and water troughs on public footpaths? Is that the best use of public money? The decision would seem to undermine the work of front line council staff and their efforts to keep paths free of unauthorised structures and obstructions. How does this decision fit with the councils statutory obligations to assert and protect the public’s rights to use public paths and to keep them free of obstructions?
And finally how does the Not To Standard But Acceptable standard fit with Kirklees recently expressed aim to increase walking by 20% and its aspiration to “continue to develop and promote sustainable and active travel and ensure that Kirklees is recognised as a great place to walk and cycle, inspiring more people to walk and cycle more often as a mode of transport, for work, leisure or for sport expressed in its recently adopted climate emergency plan ?
PathWatch is pleased to report that Holmfirth Footpath 165 has had a significant short back and sides to the laurel hedges which just about met in the middle. A new footpath sign has been installed and surface vegetation cut back too.
It is reported in the Harrogate Informer that Kirklees Strategic Director and some time authoriser of “unauthorised” water troughs on Holmfirth Paths , Mr Karl Battersby, is leaving the promised land of Kirklees to join North Yorkshire County Council where he will look after Highways & Waste.
PathWatch would like to take this opportunity to offer our deepest condolences to ramblers in North Yorkshire.
The awful proposal to divert Holmfirth 60 went to the Huddersfield Planning Sub Committee today. Eloquent and authentic speakers from Holmfirth Walkers Are Welcome, The Ramblers,Peak & Northern Footpaths Society,Huddersfield Rucksack Club and Holmfirth Harriers among others put the case against diverting this lovely path.
For the first time in nearly 20 years councillors voted against the officer recommendation (which was to divert the path) and voted to keep it where it is!
Following on from the completion of Blackpool Bridge earlier this month a team of council staff have been in the valley carrying out a list of small maintenance jobs throughout this week. Here’s the list.
This work has been taken from footpath inspections carried out over the past 2 years on the local network by this blog. A few weeks ago Councillor Paul Davies contacted me to ask for any suggestions for path works as some resources were becoming available ie a team for a week. Paul also got 6 paths cleared of vegetation during the summer. This positive approach is unprecedented here in the Holme Valley and I hope it continues. It’s very useful to have a councillor who will listen and attempt to get something done. Light at the end of the tunnel?
It’s satisfying to see works being done which will benefit path users and to have resources directed at the network. There is agreement for some larger scale works in the next financial year with up to 4 schemes programmed and in addition the 3 footbridges in Morton Wood on the Kirklees Way are to be replaced (and temporarily repaired in the meantime). Remarkably this week the Biblical lake featured in Ramblers Must Walk On Water Say Council has been earmarked for repairs. The council has of course broken it’s vows before, most notably on Ramsden Road.
This is all very positive and although dealing with Kirklees has at times felt like being taken from your bed in the middle of the night to be waterboarded in a pool on Ramsden Road, left shivering and sobbing in your jim jams and having to beg a lift home from some passing land rover enthusiast who hates ramblers , it does seem worth it occasionally.
Clearly there are structural problems in just where Kirklees puts its rights of way responsibility and how much of a priority that work is given in comparison to the many other obligations and demands on the council. However these issues are not insurmountable.It would be good to see a move away from the dodgy deals which plague the councils approach to enforcement, a more positive attitude from managers and a much a more proactive maintenatnce regime alongside a Definitive Map and Statement fit for purpose. But let’s not get carried away.
Footpath 133 at Gate Foot was extensively repaired in the early summer and then washed away in a downpour just weeks later. Thankfully the council have not walked away from this one and are on site now carrying out more extensive resurfacing and drainage works.
What this case neatly demonstrates is the huge liability the council has in maintaining and repairing public paths in the Holme Valley. This one path has now been repaired extensively on 3 occasions and it will remain vulnerable to further damage due to it’s hillside location and the neglect of adjacent land and highways drainage.
Strategic management of the rights of way network with high standards of governance and properly funded and resourced staff are required to achieve any degree of success in such an area of work.
Stoning up hillside paths in the Pennines where there is a history of water damage is not a long term soloution on this or any other route and the council know this. Until they have a plan, a strategic direction and are properly resourced the same events will occur in the same places over and over again.
I hope the new works on Footpath 133 remain in place but the history of the site suggests otherwise.
Regular readers will recall PathWatch inquiries via the Freedom of Information Act here into how a Council decision to put an Environmental Traffic Regulation order banning 4×4’s from Ramsden Road was overturned in December 2018. The result of this decision is that any works carried out to repair Ramsden Road will be instantly vulnerable to damage by motor vehicles. The Council identified 4×4 damage as a problem as far back as 2004 and of course spent £10k and all of 2018 securing an ETRO in order to protect proposed works from 4×4 damage. It’s abrupt change of mind never made any sense.
When asked how the decision was made to abandon the ETRO Kirklees stated that “The decision was based on a visual assessment of the road and discussion with colleagues and the Peak Park on the most equitable way forward.” No dates, names, new evidence on the effect of 4×4’s or outline of the process were provided. Presumably whoever wrote that is an up and coming comedian or an expert in evasion?
After an unseemly delay the Council’s Head Of Legal Services has completed a review and in respect of the answer above says –
However, my conclusion is that the council’s response to item 3 in your request – “please also provide information which shows who at Kirklees Council took the decision not to proceed with the ETRO on Ramsden Road and the reason behind this decision:-“ does not fully comply with the requirements of the Act and Regulations. I have therefore decided that this matter should be referred back to the relevant service and that you should be provided with further information as to who took the decision not to proceed with the ETRO and, if the council holds further information on this point, additional information has to be reasoning behind the decision.
I therefore partially uphold your request for a review. I have referred this matter back to the council’s Information Governance Team with a request that they reconsider the matter and that supplementary information (if any) is provided to you as soon as reasonably practicable.
Of course there are a number of caveats as to why the Council may not have to provide this information but we will wait and see. More on this in due course.
As ever with our hapless Council there is a rich irony here. The Head of Legal Services undertook the review and of course it was the errors made by legal services in the drafting of the ETRO which set off this unfortunate chain of events.