Monday, 17 February 2014

Wymington Footpath No. 5 - Highways Act 1980, Section 130A

Wymington Footpath No. 5 remains obstructed - see earlier post, so I have more formally requested that Bedford Borough Council have the obstructions removed.

Anyone walking the path would not know until they arrived at the point where the path is physically obstructed that their onward route was blocked. Realistically, they would then have to turn back. It is unlawful to obstruct a highway so there is no difference in that respect between obstructing a footpath or a road. If there is a difference otherwise then it would be the greater number of people inconvenienced by any obstructions on a road and the swifter and decisive reaction of Bedford Borough Council and others to have the obstructions removed.

Sections 130A-130D of the Highways Act 1980 enable any person to serve a notice on a local highway authority, requesting it to secure the removal of an obstruction on a public right of way. Should the authority refuse or fail to take action, the applicant can seek a Magistrates' Court order compelling the authority to act.

Here's the sequence as I understand it:

1. Complainant must serve a request notice on the highway authority, detailing the alleged obstruction and providing details of the offender if known.

2. Within one month the highway authority must serve a notice on the person named and any other persons who they believe are responsible informing that a notice has been served on the authority.

3. The highway authority must also inform the complainant advising him of the landowners they have served notice on and stating what its intention is, if any, to remove the obstruction.

4. If the highway authority fails to respond within one month or its response does not satisfy the complainant then the complainant can take his case to the magistrates' court. Before doing so the complainant must serve notice on the highway authority of his intention to do so.

5. The court will hear the case and decide whether the case meets the requirements of S130A and if so whether or not to make an order to have the obstruction removed.

Here's a copy of my letter dated 31 January where I served notice on the council:

Chief Executive
Bedford Borough Council
Cauldwell Street,
MK42 9AP                                                                                                     31 January 2014
Dear Sir,
Wymington Footpath No. 5
Notice pursuant to Section 130A(1), Highways Act 1980

I wrote to your Council on 7th January about the obstructions which have been erected either side of the railway lines on Wymington Footpath No. 5. However, I now know that the Council were aware of the obstructions before Christmas last year.

What makes these obstructions more serious is that Footpath No. 5 is subject to a diversion order (Bedford Borough Council (Wymington: Part of Footpath Nos 3, 4 and 5; Podington: Part of Footpath Nos 6 and 27) Rail Crossing Diversion Order 2013).

In my letter dated 28 January 2014, I made the strongest possible representations against the Council and Network Rail for preventing the public from walking the routes to be diverted during the course, of what now seems to be, the whole of the objection period.

When called upon to do so, the Council has not had the obstructions removed.

For this reason I now serve notice on your council, pursuant to Section 130A(1), Highways Act 1980, requesting it to secure the removal of the obstructions without delay.

I would be grateful if you would acknowledge receipt of this notice.

Yours faithfully,

Brian Cowling
OSS Local Correspondent, Bedford Borough

Form 1 pursuant to Section 130A(1), Highways Act 1980
Open Spaces Society letter dated 28 January 2014
Copy of order plan
Photo print of obstruction on northern side of railway lines

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

A Letter To A Newspaper

The Bedfordshire on Sunday newspaper published an article on 26th January about Bedford Borough Council's public rights of way performance. It began:

"A COUNCIL'S pledge to open up 15km of public footpaths by 2017 is 'aspirational' rather than binding officers have said. Bedford Borough Council set a target back in 2012 to open up 15km of blocked rights of way by 2017 but as yet hasn't reopened any of it."

I wrote a letter in response which was published (slightly edited) on 2nd February.

Here's my letter in full:

Dear Editor yourletters,

I hope that you will allow me to respond to your article (January 26, 2014 - "Pathway target is not legal but aspirational") in some way:

"Bedford Borough Council’s claim (Bedfordshire on Sunday - January 26, 2014) that its aim to open up 15km of obstructed paths by 2016 (not 2017, as reported) is “aspirational” and therefore not binding is a lame excuse for what may turn out to be a spectacular failure. The council’s objectives and targets are clearly defined in its Rights of Way Improvement Plan. “Aspiration” – hoping to achieve, does not feature in the Plan. “Target” - trying to achieve, does.

Having set targets, aims, practical actions and objectives (other descriptions in the Improvement Plan), the council has a moral duty to try to open up the rights of way network. And that should not hide the fact that the council has an explicit legal duty to keep all paths open anyway.

Nothing has been opened so far because the council hasn’t tried. It has focussed limited resources on discretionary rights of way issues rather than concentrating on its legal duties and promises.

The council relies on unnamed council officers to make excuses about what is binding or not, and it has delegated powers to council officers to make all rights of way decisions. The Portfolio Holder, Councillor Sarah-Jayne Holland who endorsed the Rights of Way Improvement Plan should admit that targets are not being met, and explain what measures will be taken to meet them."

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Wymington Footpaths & Network Rail - Update

Wymington Footpath No. 5 still cannot be used over the railway lines - see 13th January post.

Network Rail asked Bedford Borough Council to temporarily close FP5. When the Council refused, Network Rail closed the path anyway; that is, wilfully and unlawfully erected barriers to prevent the public from using the path. The Council has been aware of this since December (a month earlier than I thought) yet the path remains closed.

I have asked the Council to have the obstructions removed.

Highway law does not seem to apply as it should to footpaths in Bedford Borough so the chances are that the public will not be permitted to walk the obstructed part of FP5 in the near future – if ever!

What does it matter? A lot! Here’s one of the reasons:

The New Inn, Wymington
I met a couple by chance last month at the The New Inn, Wymington. Having consulted an Ordnance Survey map the couple had devised a circular walk and were in Wymington to further their plan for a U3A walking group’s day out scheduled for February. They wanted to book lunch at the pub for 20 walkers travelling from Cambridgeshire but decided against when finding out (from me) that part of their route wasn’t available.
The New Inn has lost twenty new customers. It’s a nice pub, nice enough to attract repeat visits. It has other attributes, a decent car park for instance, so others might have been encouraged to visit. The Council’s and Network Rail’s careless attitude has cost the local economy. It could have been worse. The walking group might not, as is often the case, have found out that their path wasn’t available until the day.