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.

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