Monday, 30 December 2013

Stagsden Footpath No. 20

The route of Stagsden Footpath No. 20 now passes through a recently built house on land formerly occupied by a smithy at Stagsden, near Bedford. Bedford Borough Council must shoulder the blame for this.

The Forge, Stagsden
The detached house at the rear of the image (behind the tree)
Construction completed October 2013
Bedford Borough Council approved an application from a developer for a public path order to divert Footpath No. 20 to enable development. (Please note, dear reader, that the application plan does not depict the widths of the existing and proposed footpath to scale. If it did then it would correctly show the existing footpath, which is said to be 2-3 metres wide, as passing through the study and dining room of the proposed dwelling.) There was a clear need to divert the footpath so the Council made an order to divert it as requested.

So far, so good. But that's as good as it gets.

The developer illegally fenced off the area preventing public access to the site and to the footpath (forcing the public to use the proposed new path which was and is accessible) and built over the footpath before the public path order process was completed - a process with no guaranteed outcome.

Although the Council made a diversion order it is debatable whether or not it could have done so more quickly. In my opinion, delay was incurred as a consequence of poor decisions by Council managers which has left the Rights of Way Team, who have public path order responsibilities, under-resourced. What is not in doubt though is that the Council has failed to carry out its statutory duty to protect the footpath by allowing the developer to obstruct it.

The Council will now have to start the lengthy legal procedures necessary to abandon the diversion order which it made under the provisions of Section 257 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (a process which has taken the best part of a year so far). Then a new order will have to be made under the provisions of Section 119 of the Highways Act 1980. This is because the power to confirm and complete the order making process is no longer available to a council under Section 257 when a development is complete.

Bedford Borough Council must now hope that it can rely on the powers conferred to it by the Highways Act. And those that reside at The Forge, Stagsden must hope that no one uninvited passes close by while they eat their dinner.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Guru Ravidass Lane, Bedford

A road in Bedford town centre cannot be used as a through route because it is obstructed by a locked gate.

Guru Ravidass Lane
(View towards Ashburnham Road)

The road, Guru Ravidass Lane, MK40 1ED, runs between Ashburnham Road near Bedford Railway Station and The Avenue. I’m not entirely sure of the circumstances that caused the situation so I asked the council if they would confirm whether or not my statement below is true:
"Currently, there’s a legal wrangle between Bedford Borough Council and a landowner over a lane in Bedford. The Council gave permission for a gate to be erected on Guru Ravidass Lane, Bedford but following complaints now considers that the public have a right to walk along the lane and require the locked gate to be removed to enable public access.
This is interesting because Guru Ravidass Lane is in what is called The Excluded Area which means, in a public rights of way sense, that it is an area for which there is no Definitive Map and Statement. It is also interesting because if the Council pursues the case and as a consequence proves that the lane is a public footpath, the area (a) will get a definitive map and statement and (b) the public’s right to walk along the lane will be better protected.”
The council’s response was:
“I have no comments on your statement.”
A pity really because it seemed I had found something positive to write about rather than complain even if the result I hope for arises from a cock-up; a definitive map and statement for the excluded area of Bedford would be good news. And it would have been nice to be able to report something optimistic during the season of goodwill. Truly. But it’s a two-way process.
A Definitive Map and Statement is a legal record of the position and status of public rights of way.
The mapping of public rights of way started in 1951 under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. Four separate maps were produced as part of the process of producing a Definitive Map and Statement for the then county of Bedfordshire.

The 1949 Act allowed the County Council to seek permission to opt out of the process for those urban areas which were fully developed except that Bedford and Luton, as County Boroughs were not included in the areas that had to be mapped under the provisions of the 1949 Act. In the case of Bedfordshire therefore, Bedford, Biggleswade, Dunstable, and Luton were excluded. Under current legislation the highway authorities for these areas, Bedford Borough Council, Central Bedfordshire Council and Luton Borough Council are required to publish a map of these areas – the so called Excluded Areas. None have done so.

It should be of great concern to the public because pre-1949 paths, which may include Guru Ravidass Lane (as well as, for example, alleyways such as those leading from and to the High Street, Bedford, and those paths that criss-cross The Embankment, Bedford) are at risk of being lost forever if not protected by the publication of a Definitive Map and Statement for The Excluded Area of Bedford.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Wyboston, Chawston & Colesden Footpath No. A11E

Wyboston, Chawston & Colesden Footpath No. A11E cannot be used because it has been obstructed by the landowners over whose land the footpath crosses and the Council has done nothing to have the obstructions removed.

“Obstructing a PROW is a criminal offence. Local authorities have the right to demand that an obstruction be removed. If you refuse or neglect to do this, they are allowed to remove the obstruction and recover the costs of doing so from you.
Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs – 13 June 2013.

If that isn’t bad enough, one of the landowners, Mrs Day, of Moat Cottage, applied to Bedford Borough Council for a public path order to extinguish the path (close it to the public forever). The Council (which doesn’t have to accept applications of this type) carried out consultations to gauge some public opinion. No one responded in support. Bedfordshire Rights of Way Association, Higham Ferrers Footpath Group and the Ramblers all said that they would object to an order. The Open Spaces Society wasn’t consulted but informed the Council that it would object if an order was made. Therefore, of those consulted: those For - none; those Against - the many.

So the Council made an order (click here to see the order plan).

The Council will do it’s best to get rid of this public right of way in the interests of the landowners, and the public will contribute toward the costs including those arising from a public inquiry. And bear in mind that the Council is trying to find savings in order to further reduce its budget – services have been cut, redundancies announced and I understand that assets are to be sold.

Moat Cottage
A locked gate (on right) is one of the illegal obstructions
(Click image to expand it)

The Council says that the nearby Footpath No. 44 will serve as an alternative path. The casual reader may think that a reasonable proposition but look closely at the plan - that path is also obstructed.

I can understand a householder not wanting the public crossing their land especially when a path is in close proximity to their house. But millions of houses are close to footpaths, pavements and other highways. Nor is the footpath new or recently discovered. It’s probably centuries old – the house itself is a Grade II listed building dated as 17th Century.

I cannot understand why in the face of such opposition, with more important things to do and with a reducing budget with which to do it, the Council can decide it is a good idea (or “expedient”, as the legislation requires it) to close this footpath forever.

Others should understand that it is my right to be able to walk this path.

Why would I want to?

Well, one of the joys of walking is the knowledge that sometimes you are walking in the steps of those who did so, many years ago. Historically, this path is just as important as the English Heritage Listed and therefore protected 17th Century house it passes. There is evidence for human activity in what is now Wyboston that comes from the Neolithic period (Stone Age, c. 4,000 – 2,000 BC). Footpath No. A11E was formerly part of the The Ouse Valley Way. That section of the long distance trail was probably changed to Footpath No. 44 when Footpath No. A11E was obstructed but it could (and should) be changed back or at least be available as an alternative and more interesting section for those walking that trail.

The consultees opposed to an order considerately suggested diverting the path out of the property instead of extinguishing it, but no; the applicant and the Council want it gone.

Would not that part at least, dear reader, make you just a little bit grumpy too?

Monday, 9 December 2013

Kempston Urban Footpath No. 9

Bedford Borough Council has made an order to divert part of Kempston Urban Footpath No. 9. It is my strongly held view that the council should not have made the order. But now that it has, I have formally objected and requested that the order be abandoned.

Why? Then consider this:

Part of Footpath No.9 is not evident on the ground, there isn’t a finger post on the metalled road, described as point “B” on the order plan (click here to view the plan) which is a legal requirement, nor is there signage at point “A” to assist persons unfamiliar with the locality to follow the course of the footpath. The public are unknowingly using an alternative route.

The part of the path to be diverted is obstructed by wooden fences and vegetation so even if the public knew where the path was (which I doubt they do) then they would not be able to exercise their right to walk along it. The reason it is obstructed is because the council agreed that if the developer, Kempston Mill Limited, erected fences then the council would make an order to divert the path. The relevant clauses are contained in a land swap agreement between Bedford Borough Council and Kempston Mill Limited. Yet, Section 130 of the Highways Act 1980 makes it explicit that It is the duty of the highway authority to assert and protect the rights of the public to the use and enjoyment of any highway for which they are the highway authority”.

If that, dear reader, doesn’t convince you that the council should not have made the order then consider this as well:

It seems to me that the proposed “new” route is already a public right of way, and I submit that one public right of way cannot be diverted wholly onto another.

See (if you can) R v Lake District Special Planning Board, ex parte Bernstein, The Times, February 3 1983. Essentially: a public path diversion order should not be used to close a path where the whole of the alternative route is already subject to a public right of way. The effect, otherwise, would be to enable the tests, employed when making and confirming a public path extinguishment order to be side stepped, as such an order would, in effect, be stopping up a right of way.

Why do I think the “new” path is already a public right of way?

Well, the path is a popular, very well-used route. It has a hard surface provided and maintained by the landowner - Bedford Borough Council. There is a finger post at point “B” which was erected some years ago by the landowner. The sign indicates that the path is a “Public Footpath”. And the path is part of a circular walk promoted on the council’s website. All of which, in my opinion, is good evidence that the landowner has dedicated the route as a public footpath which the public has accepted. It’s just not a right of way shown on the definitive map.

The council should busy itself making public path orders which will be necessary to open up the rights of way network, as it has said it will, instead of wasting time and public money making improper, unnecessary orders such as this.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Rights of Way Improvement Plan 2012-2017

As the highway authority, Bedford Borough Council is required by law to maintain and protect its public rights of way and to keep them available for public use. However, many rights of way in the borough are obstructed and cannot be used. The council admits to this but does not know or say how many or how much is unavailable.

The council has a five year plan to open up and improve the network - the Bedford Borough Council Rights of Way Improvement Plan 2012 – 2017 (ROWIP). It is a splendid document containing fine words signed off by Councillor Sarah-Jayne Holland, Portfolio Holder for Communities and Regulatory Services.

However, targets are not being met. For instance, ROWIP Aim 3 is to “Extend and enhance the Rights of Way network”. Various aims are then detailed as to how this will be achieved. Obstructed public rights of way are dealt with at paragraph 3.1.a - “Open 15 kilometres of previously unusable path through resolution of Definitive Map anomalies by 2016.”
What this means is that the council will make public path orders to resolve problem paths (anomalies). For example: divert a footpath which is obstructed because it has been built upon or the area developed in some way. Many paths in the borough are affected in this way. One such is Bedford Footpath No. 1 which crosses Goldington Green. Finger posts on Goldington Road and Goldington Green clearly indicate where it crosses the green, and the route of the path can be seen on the Ordnance Survey map for the area. Regrettably, (possibly criminally because it's an offence to obstruct a public right of way) Bedford Borough Council has built a fenced-in playground over the legal line of the footpath. Click image (left) to expand it.

Approaching the end of the second year of the Rights of Way Improvement Plan and with about two more years before the target date for this aim, not one metre has been opened up.

What chance 15km now Councillors?

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Public Rights of Way

Public rights of way are minor public highways that exist for the benefit of the community at large, in much the same way as the public road network does. They are the most widely recognised opportunity for the public to enjoy the English countryside. In Bedford Borough there are about 600 miles (965 kilometres) of legally recorded public rights of way. These are made up of footpaths over which the right of way is on foot only; bridleways for pedestrians, horse riders and cyclists (who must give way to people on foot or on horseback); and byways open to all traffic (BOATs) for those on foot, on horseback and for all vehicular traffic. Carriageways are ways over which there exist footpath and bridleway rights, and a right to pass in or on a vehicle.

As a result of legislation, there are now additional terms and definitions which include: cycle track - a way over which there is a right of way on pedal cycles and possibly also on foot; and footway - a way set aside for pedestrians at the edge of carriageway, better known as a pavement. A green lane is a term with no legal meaning. It is a physical description of an unsurfaced track, normally hedged, and often, but not always, of some antiquity. It may be a footpath, bridleway or carriageway or may carry no public right of way.

Defining My Terms

The importance of definitions can hardly be overestimated. “Define your terms” should be the starting point of any discussion or debate that is important and complicated. In the absence of clearly stated and agreed definitions, all too often two parties or more discussing or arguing about something will in fact either:

·  be discussing or arguing about different things, or

·  be using arguments that are bound to be completely misunderstood, or

·  both.

That said, satisfactory definitions are sometimes difficult to come up with, other than at a length which would make them too unwieldy for those whose attention I seek - those with and without a basic knowledge of public rights of way. On the face of it, this is a serious matter given that public rights are at stake. Users, landholders and administrators enthuse over the wonders and benefits of public rights of way yet many shirk their moral and statutory duties and responsibilities to protect and care for them.
My aim is to broadcast what I ultimately see as threats to our public rights of way. Whenever I do some prescribing - which to me means “laying down authoritatively” - I by no means do so as an authority in my own right, which of course I am not. I do so as a layman, interested in, and therefore learning about, public rights of way. To that end, constructive criticism is welcome. As is agreement and indeed, encouragement.