Thursday, 17 April 2014

Bedford Borough Council should work harder to meet its targets

The situation in Bedford Borough where many public paths cannot be used because they are obstructed is unchanged. Two years ago Bedford Borough Council endorsed a plan to open up 15 kilometres of unusable paths, using public path orders, over a four year period (Rights of Way Improvement Plan, paragraph 3.1.a). At the start of the third year (1 April 2014), not even 1 metre had been opened up. Other public path orders have been made but none which will serve to open up the public rights of way network.

That is fact.

The Council is not even trying to open up the rights of way network. Instead, it continues to concentrate on other public path orders, all of which have been objected to (there is a period after the Council has made an order when the public may object to it. That temporarily stops the process until the objections are withdrawn or the case is heard and decided by The Planning Inspectorate):

Kempston Urban Footpath No. 9 - an unnecessary diversion.

Wyboston Footpath No. A11E - an outrageous extinguishment where public money is being used in the interests of a landowner who has unlawfully obstructed a public path to prevent the public from using it.

Riseley Footpath No. 70 - a creation order linked to an extinguishment order (such orders can be made concurrently to create a path as a replacement for the other). The extinguishment order has been confirmed and the path closed forever. Somewhat unfairly, the creation order will now be abandoned so there will be no new path.

Stagsden Footpath No. 20 – an application for a diversion order which the Council had to process to enable development but which must now be abandoned and made anew because of Council incompetence. A house has now been built on the path.

Wymington Footpaths Nos 3, 4 & 5 - an application for a diversion order from Network Rail which the Council had to process but which, in my opinion, provides an unreasonably long new route. Network Rail has unlawfully closed one of the footpaths anyway.

Sharnbrook Footpath No. 2 - an application for an extinguishment order from Network Rail which the Council had to process but which, in my opinion, relies on a dangerous alternative route. Objections to the order may force Network Rail to pay for works to improve the alternative route. The Council should have required such works in the first place without objectors having to force the issue.

The public most likely would not know it but it is being short changed here. The few proposals/projects listed above plus a similar amount including those not yet fully in the public domain comprise a meagre total when compared with what could be in train.

Other targets in the Council’s improvement plan have not started either, including:

  • To quantify, identify and cost out routes which could offer benefits to reduce fragmentation through Public Path Orders. (ROWIP paragraph 3.1.b.)

  • To work with Highways to develop an action plan to improve strategic/significant road crossings and maximise access opportunities associated with management of verges. (ROWIP paragraph 3.1.c.)

Bedford Borough Council should do more to meet its published aims. Instead, the Council is considering revising its targets down.

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