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.

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