Monday, 24 March 2014

Kempston Urban Footpath No. 9 - Update

At the end of this month, Bedford Borough Council will reach the half-way point of its four year programme (as set out in the council’s Rights of Way Improvement Plan) to open up 15 kilometres of unusable public rights of way by 2016. So far it has not opened up even one metre. Nor is it seen to be trying to. Instead, the council continues to waste time and money on other rights of way issues. And it seems to be making slow progress in doing that.
Take the issue of Kempston Urban Footpath No. 9 for example.
An 80 metre section of Kempston Urban Footpath No. 9 crosses a small, mostly public open space beside the River Great Ouse – see bold black line on the image below. Most of the land belongs to Bedford Borough Council. A small part belongs to Kempston Mill Limited.
The council has the power to make an order to divert a footpath. If no one is opposed, then the council can complete the process by confirming the order. The new route then comes into operation and the old one is extinguished.
If someone is opposed to an order, that is to say submits an objection, then the council cannot confirm it. The council can however, ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to confirm an opposed order. He has the power to confirm such orders but he first appoints an Inspector to deal with the case at some form of public inquiry. An Inspector can confirm an order with or without amendments or refuse to confirm an order.
The council made an order to divert part of Kempston Urban Footpath No. 9 in August 2013 - see HERE, but it is opposed. The Council has asked the Secretary of State to confirm the order (I understand with amendments because the council had not described the position of the new route correctly), and he has appointed an Inspector. However, the council has been informed that they have not carried out the diversion order procedure correctly. They must now re-advertise the diversion order with notices on site and in a local newspaper for a minimum of 28 days.
If the order is confirmed then it will not serve to open up the public rights of way network.
The part of Footpath No. 9 to be diverted has been cleared and is now available for use but the council continues to waste time and money dealing with a pointless diversion instead of trying to open up unusable paths as it has said it would.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Wymington Footpath No. 5 - Update

Network Rail erected barriers on Wymington Footpath No. 5 to prevent the public from using the path. See blog posts 13 January, 5 February - and 17 February where I explained that I had served notice on Bedford Borough Council to secure the removal of the obstructions.

The council has the power (Highways Act 1980, section 143) to require the removal from a highway of any structure which has been set up other than under statutory powers. The procedure is simple. The council serves notice on the person having control of or possession of the structure(s). If the structures are not removed then the council may itself remove them and recover the reasonable expenses in doing so. There is no requirement to give a second warning but the council is not allowed to remove any structure until a month after the notice has been served.

Bedford Borough Council has informed me that it has served notice on Network Rail. See S130(A) FORM 3.

That’s a council step in the right direction. Possibly the first time the council has taken such a step.

Will Network Rail oblige and open the path? What will the council do if it doesn't?

Network Rail is considering posting an employee on site (on arable land in the countryside) to temporarily remove the barriers and to escort members of the public over the railway lines when walkers arrive on site, and when Network Rail’s Control Centre in Derby gives permission. I suspect that the sentry will encourage members of the public to use another route where they will unknowingly trespass on private land, and commit a criminal offence by walking along part of a footpath that has been temporarily closed under the terms of the Road Traffic Regulation Act.

On its website, Network Rail states “We own and operate Britain’s rail infrastructure.” They seem to be acting as if they own and operate public rights of way as well.