A modest success ;-)

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That’s better!

Eleven weeks after I first brought the blatant obstruction of Holmfirth Footpath 188 to the attention of Yorkshire Water and subsequently Kirklees Council the issue has been resolved!

As suggested in my original post all that was needed was some new hinges and a sneck to get the old gate working again.  Incredible that someone would go to the lengths they did to block the path with boulders and drag their feet  when politely asked to put it right. Several Yorkshire Water staff were involved in requesting the removal of the obstruction on a number of occasions and I understand two members of staff attended a site visit with the tenant. I know at least one visit was made to the site by a member of staff from Kirklees Council. In addition time has been spent liaising with Yorkshire Water and directly with the tenant responsible for the illegal obstruction.

It’s worth pondering  –

  1. Obstructing a public footpath is illegal
  2. Yorkshire Water’s costs are paid for from everyone’s water rates
  3. Kirklees Council is in dire financial straights
  4. The taxpayer funds Kirklees Councils costs on this matter
  5. The tenant is subsidised via cap payments by the taxpayer
  6. The public are paying for everything here but have been denied access along the public path.

My initial reports to Kirklees Council were ignored so on 28th August 2017 I served a Section 130a notice and it was only after this that my reports were taken seriously and acted upon. From experience I find that if an obstruction makes it to 6 months it becomes part of the status quo and council managers will try to explain it away and justify it’s presence rather than get on and shift it. So maybe after receiving a few “unique” reference numbers but no action Section 130a is the answer?

The issue has also been passed onto the Rural Payments Agency and I’ve had a very encouraging response from their office.

It is Kirklees Council’s policy to refer incidents such as this to the RPA and it would be a powerful deterrent to landowners obstructing public rights of way if it was used. I don’t believe it ever has been in Kirklees despite many opportunities. The Council could save a lot of money if it took this option on reported obstructions. I’d suggest that noone in receipt of CAP payments would block a public right of way if they seriously thought Kirklees would inform the RPA and a full land inspection was on the cards.

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Holmfirth Cricket Club Right Of Way – Storm in a teacup?

 

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Holmfirth

Must have been a slow day for news in Huddersfield as the “story” of the Holmfirth Cricket Club public right of way hit the headlines in the local rag .

The cricket club’s “rights of way consultant”  is quoted by  the Examiner  saying “incidents of vandalism and risk of encampment by travellers had prompted the move” to close the footpath. Along with a perceived health & safety risk from the foundary.

There is no explanation as to how an inert public footpath is responsible for  acts of vandalism. I’d suggest people are by and large responsible for  such acts not public footpaths. The site can be accessed from a variety of  locations including Bridge Lane and Huddersfield Road so logic would suggest closing these public highways during the night too if they are similarly inclined to carry out random acts of tagging in the night.

Criminals of course will use any means of access to do their anti social activities. Whether the public right of way here is closed or open will make no difference and it is no justification for denying legitimate public access.

The “risk of encampment by travellers” seems a pretty desperate justification for closing the path. As someone who lived overlooking the cricket ground for nearly 20 years I can vouch for the fact that the area is a quiet backwater and not one regularly invaded by the travelling community who tend to favour council owned land.

Who knows what the motivation of the car driver taking a trip across the wicket was but such things are rare, isolated  incidents rather than the norm. That issue could easily be prevented from ever happening again by  putting up a short barrier between the pitch and carpark.

And the foundary? Well it seems odd to justify closing a public right of way on a night by using a business that is open in the daytime as a reason.

So it really is a storm in a teacup to some degree. But then again you have to wonder why the club would go to  the trouble of employing a “rights of way” consultant , causing  friction with locals and to a degree damaging the clubs standing in the community by it’s actions in attempting to close the path?

There is a lot of speculation locally about this site not least because the club were seemingly willing to sell up back in 2014

Now generally speaking a  site with a public right of way present can be problematic to a developer but a site with a permissive path is a pushover because that permission can be withdrawn at any time.

 

Holmfirth Cricket Club Public Right Of Way

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The signs challenging the right of way had been removed along with the fencing when I visited. Only the challenge to the illegal sign remained.

This public right of way must be one of the most well used in the Holmfirth area. Generations of children and parents have used it to  access Sands Rec, Holmfirth Pool , the River Holme, Holmfirth High School or just cut through to Huddersfield Road.

Many of us use it early or late in the day for a quiet dog walk past the cricket field and down to the river. During some of the festivals and events which take place in Holmfirth such as the duck race,folk festival,bonfire etc many hundreds of people will walk this public right of way during the course of a day.

Everyone using this right of way does so as of right . No one asks permission or would even think permission was needed. No permission has ever been given by the owners who are fully aware of the popularity and extensive use of this public right of way over their property. I doubt you’d find many people in Holmfirth who are not aware of its existence or who have not walked it at some point in their lives.

Unfortunately the public use of the right of way is now being challenged and signs have gone up stating it is a not a right of way but a permissive path during daylight hours. This is news to most people I would think and has caused a lot of interest on the local Facebook Page

The right of way is not recorded on the council’s Definitive Map and Statement so it is vulnerable however there is a claim to add the right of way as a bridleway. A decision has to be made by the council in the coming weeks on this claim.

Claiming rights of way can  be a long winded process  but I’d urge anyone who has used this route regularly for 20 years to complete an evidence form this week and return it to Kirklees. Evidence forms can be downloaded here

The council has been aware of this right of way for many years and should have been more proactive in securing it’s future. The Holme Valley Riverside Way nearly came along this path and it was strongly suggested at the time of the routes creation that the Council make a legal order to formally create a right of way here as there is a proven need and long established and accepted public use.

Furthermore  such is the weight and regularity of use of the right of way that there is a case  that public rights have obviously been established at common law. You only need to look at the Facebook response to see how many people  regularly use it. So in addition to the current claim the council ought to be recognizing the long established use of the route both past and present, the need for the route as a safe off road path and the routes integral role in access to the River Holme and surrounding green spaces.

The council perhaps with an input from local Holme Valley South Councillors , Holmfirth Parish Council and groups such as River Holme Connections needs to come up with a plan beyond the claim which ensures this public right of way for the future.

When I wandered down to photograph the “No right of way” signs they had gone!! Along with the fencing which had narrowed the right of ways width. This would seem like an emphatic bit of people power or a tactical retreat by the landowner who may just have recognised that placing the signs has given the issue a much higher profile and will provoke much more evidence in support of the right of way.

 

Battle of the green fields – Scholes

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Footpath off Cross Lane Scholes

Kirklees planners and councillors reached a new low at the Planning Sub Committee (Huddersfield Area) on 31st August 2017 approving a development of some 39 homes at a greenfield site at Scholes in the Holme Valley.

The attitude of councillors and planners towards local residents genuine concerns and their ignorance of the value of green public open spaces for public health and well being caught my eye.

This is another case of sharp suited wolves picking off green space aided and abetted not just by the council’s planning policy vacuum  but by turning a blind eye to a further nearby  greenfield site where some 140 houses could be built. Only a fool would consider the effects of the two sites separately.

The webcast of the meeting is revealing. Chair Cllr Terry Lyons is in a very grumpy mood and votes in support of the proposal. It will be interesting to see how Cllr Lyons votes when a similar proposal affecting a greenfield site and a public footpath in his own backyard comes up before the committee.

In contrast to the reasonable,articulate and well made arguments of  local residents members of the committee seemed slightly annoyed and disinterested, voting predictably along tribal party lines instead of the details and merits or otherwise of the application. Sadly this is how it works in Kirklees. Typical labour councillors from Batley or Dewsbury do not have a grasp on the public value of green spaces or rights of way.

Tellingly one Labour councillor dismisses the value of green space completely saying “I do think we’re getting to a stage where we’re paying more attention to public open space than we are to bigger issues such as highways issues.What I would say is put  money where it’s really needed in highways”  The highways referred to are of course the ones gridlocked with cars rather than the footways,cycle lanes ,footpaths and bridleways which the council is also responsible for but routinely ignores.This attitude infects the council,it’s management,officers and decision making processes.

It’s staggering that a councillor could be so dismissive of public open space where children,parents and grandparents can spend quality car free, healthy time together. Over half the population in Kirklees is obese yet the committee puts £140k of developers money into roads rather than green space or public rights of way which offer an alternative to the epidemic of inactivity costing the country so much.

The council should be looking to improve the green infrastructure and with it public health at every opportunity rather than continually pouring money into roads. £140k would enable a lot of basic maintenance works to be undertaken on the Council’s neglected public rights of way network. Such an idea seems beyond the imagination of planning officers or councillors. Instead this money will  fill in a few hundred potholes or a few nights winter gritting.

 

There’s an account of the meeting in the Examiner

The webcast of the meeting is here

 

The Cost of doing nothing 3

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Here’s a photo of our dog moving as quickly & efficiently as Kirklees Council on an important rights of way issue.

In July 2016 Kirklees Council issued a works order to Leeds City Council engaging Leeds as consultants to “investigate” the status of Huddersfield Byway 231.

To date Leeds City Council staff have spent 92 hours on this work and charged Kirklees Council £5000 plus VAT. (FOI 19455).

Kirklees Council has a shortfall of £28 million in the current financial year and the financial reserves which it relies on to keep going will run dry by 2021. In addition residents council tax bills rose by a whopping 10% this year. You’ve got to wonder at the wisdom of taking the unprecedented step of hiring consultants on an issue such as this.

Leeds City Council had not completed the work 12 months after the order was issued and no definite date was known for completion the last time I asked in June. I asked again last Friday but have had no response.

Either Leeds were a poor choice of consultant or Kirklees has been happy to let time tick by content in an ongoing “definitive map process” with no end.

In hiring consultants Kirklees has gone against its own local procedures. Normally any application to change a routes status would be assessed by the council’s  cabinet approved priority matrix, judged against a set of criteria and placed in order of the outcoming score. The application at Nether Moor Farm (file 182) is number 90 on a list of 125. So pretty lowly when judged by the council’s own criteria. See here

Some 13 months after the file was taken out of the list and given a unique priority at a cost of £5000 absolutely nothing has been achieved beyond sustaining the 2 year closure of a well used and liked public right of way.

The council has already spent some £14,000 on unspecified legal fees and an unknown and written off amount on botched enforcement. This could well be the tip of the iceberg as they are giving very little away regarding other costs. It’s telling that despite all these public resources  nothing has happened..

The council has argued that the results of these investigations will “inform” their “postponed” enforcement action on the byway.

However it is clear that at the same time Kirklees  accept the routes status is a byway. The Council’s Director of Place and now Chief Executive Jacqui Gedman has signed Town & Country Planning Act Notices which refer explicitly to the  routes status as Huddersfield Byway 231,the council has received legal advice stating that it should treat the Byway as such and council officers as recently as June 2017 advised on the status of the way as a Byway in the planning process.  See The cost of doing nothing 2   The obvious question is why isn’t the council allowing its Chief Executive’s view, it’s legal advisors view and it’s own officers view that the byway is a byway “inform” its enforcement action?

 

 

 

 

Marsden Walkers are Welcome

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Wessenden Lodge & Pule Hill

Marsden is a great place to go walking. From the canal and valley  up onto wide open moorland there’s something for everyone here. The village has some good pubs and cafes for a bit of refuelling afterwards too.

There’s an active Walkers are Welcome group and you can see some of their work,plans for the future and vote for funding for the group here

Holmfirth Footpath 31 Robinson Lane

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A 4 metre  retaining wall will be built to left of path and a tunnel for the path at the far end as site will be raised by 5 metres for building.

Until fairly recently this field which is crossed by Holmfirth Footpath 31 produced an annual crop of silage around this time of year. The neighbouring fields were stocked with cattle and the public enjoyed walking here amongst land that has hardly changed since farming came to the valley. Agriculture has stopped now and this little green oasis off Woodhead Road is likely to be paved over and built on.

In the planning void which currently exists in Kirklees provisional open land like this is prey to developers. The council is in a wilderness of it’s own making caught between an out of date Unitary Development Plan and a new Local Development Plan. The council cannot demonstrate a five year housing supply and so land such as this is picked off by developers like wolves nailing a sickly deer out in the open.

The plan for this field and Holmfirth Footpath 31 is to build 70 houses here. You can’t blame the wolves for doing what comes naturally but you have to ask how has our local council allowed this situation to happen?

These green spaces and public rights of way are valued by many  and this path is well used by locals. I walked the path today in warm August sunshine, surrounded by trees and with a view to Castle Hill. Swallows were feeding in the air above and there was a real sense of place, tranquility and amenity.

The path will still be there when the houses are built but the green grass,views and rural character will be gone. The path will be a ghost of it’s former self, contained by retaining walls, overlooked by residents who don’t want it, littered with garden waste probably and  forced into a tunnel beneath a new road. The amenity and character of the path will be lost forever.

The plans can be viewed here but the deadline for comments is tomorrow!