Saturday, 18 January 2014

Soave sia il vento

And now for something completely different - I'm off to the Peak District for a week so May The Wind Be Gentle ...

Monday, 13 January 2014

Wymington Footpaths & Network Rail

Bedford Borough Council has made an order, at the request of Network Rail, to divert three footpaths: Wymington Footpaths 3, 4 and 5. It notified the public it had done so with notices advertised in a local newspaper and posted on the affected footpaths. Here’s the diversion order plan. The Council also gave notice that the public had what amounted to 42 days in which to comment - the so-called “objection period” which ends on 3rd February 2014.

That was generous; the legal situation is that the period must not be less than 28 days - sufficient for anyone who might reasonably wish to walk the current and proposed alternative routes for comparison before commenting. However, (there is usually a “however” in my scribblings, and soon after an oft-used “regrettably”) it is often the case that the alternative routes are unavailable. And that is the situation at Wymington; the alternative routes were not made available when they could so easily have been. Regrettably, the generous 42 day objection period, already depreciated by the unavailability of the alternative routes, was to suffer further.

On 5th January, the Council notified the public that it intended making an order to temporarily prohibit people walking on Wymington Footpaths 3 and 4 which are two of the three footpaths affected by the diversion order, from 22nd January. The footpaths are to be closed for six months to enable Network Rail to carry out works. Here’s the temporary prohibition order plan.

On 6th January, 15 days earlier than permitted, I noticed that Network Rail had erected barriers on the two footpaths preventing anyone from actually walking the paths. And worse, Network Rail also barred access to Wymington Footpath 5 the other footpath subject to the diversion order but not the prohibition order. The effect is that none of the current footpaths and proposed routes are now physically fully available and on 22nd January two of the paths will not be legally available either.
Wymington Footpath No. 5

The 42 day objection period has effectively been reduced to 15 days or less. That is wrong. A great shame as well because the diversion order is not a good one; in my opinion the new route for Wymington Footpath No. 5 will be inconvenient. Using Network Rail’s own walking speed formula the detour will take almost 15 minutes to walk. At that rate, 13 minutes more than the more direct route that it replaces. Unfortunately, the way things stand it isn’t possible for anyone to properly test that on the ground.

The Council has failed in its duty to protect the public's right to walk these paths by allowing Network Rail to unlawfully obstruct them.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Sharnbrook Footpath No. 2

Numerous public rights of way were recorded between 1750 and 1850, when appointed commissioners divided up (enclosed) and apportioned out manorial land. During this process, new legal rights to cross the land were also created. These included both public rights of way (highways) and private rights of way. This task was carried out by appointed commissioners, whose powers were bestowed under more than 5,000 Private Inclosure Acts and Inclosure Awards.

Many such public rights of way still exist. Some are well used, others hidden – forgotten but not necessarily lost yet, and others abused. Sharnbrook Footpath No. 2 falls within the latter category.

Footpath No. 2 was awarded as a public footpath 202 years ago under the Sharnbrook Inclosure Award of 1812.

The footpath seems to have taken its first beating 42 years later in 1857 when the railway line was built over it. The next assault came when a house “Millbrook” was built upon it, north of the railway lines. More recently fences and a substantial hedge, south of the railway lines, act as barricades which prevent the public from walking the path. The latest attack on this old path though could be the final one for part of it – Network Rail has requested that a section of the footpath be extinguished; closed for ever. The Council has agreed to close it. A Bedford Borough Council official has donned his black cap and sealed the public path extinguishment order.

Sharnbrook Footpath No. 2
The view from point B as shown on the Extinguishment Order Plan

What is a footpath preservation society member to do? Give up on it? And let the Council confirm the order - 202 years isn’t a bad run (walk). Or stick up for it? Lodge an objection - a stay of execution to argue the case for better care for the elderly (path).

Well, I am waiting for a reply from Bedford Borough Council before I decide. Situation normal really; waiting is part of the process of dealing with our local authority – let me just say that they usually allow plenty of time for background activities. (Incidentally, the plan accompanying the order is described as a "diversion" rather than an "extinguishment" order, which raises doubts about the accuracy of the order, and which may prevent the Council itself confirming it.)

All will be revealed in due course so watch this space. Follow my blog even, by clicking the relevant button to join this site, to spur me on and enable me to think of you as “Dear ReaderS”.