Friday, 13 June 2014

Sharnbrook Footpath No. 2 - Update

Back in January, I reported that Bedford Borough Council had made an order to close Sharnbrook Footpath No. 2 - see HERE. It seemed a great shame to me that such an old path should be lost to the public forever, or that it could not, in part at least, be diverted, but Network Rail and the Council argued that it should be closed for safety reasons because the public right of way crossed the railway tracks.

Fair enough. But in my opinion the alternative route (Park Lane, Sharnbrook) was also a dangerous place for pedestrians. It is a busy road - especially so on school days and something of a rat run between Sharnbrook and the A6. Pedestrians have to be extra vigilant when walking on the road and very careful when forced onto the grass verge which is narrow, has an uneven surface and is usually overgrown with underlying and overhanging vegetation.

The order plan can be seen HERE.

I objected to the order, as did Bedfordshire Rights of Way Association.

When someone objects to an order then the order making authority (Bedford Borough Council in this case) cannot complete the process by confirming it. The order can be abandoned or it can be sent to DEFRA who can appoint an official to hear the arguments for and against at some form of public inquiry before deciding whether or not to confirm or reject the order.

However, if objections are withdrawn then the order making authority can proceed. Although in this case there may be a typing error in the order - a legal discrepancy which may mean that Council has to forward the order to DEFRA. The Council does not have the power to amend an order whereas the Secretary of State does.

I said that I would be prepared to withdraw my objection if Network Rail would pay for works to provide a safer and better surfaced path within the verge for pedestrians. They agreed and the council has almost finished the works at a cost to Network Rail of £7,500. (Further works are required to retain parts of the new path, and overhanging vegetation is yet to be cut back.)

If I said that it was a shame to lose this old footpath then it is also a shame that more people did not show an interest, including Sharnbrook Parish Council. I have been informed that when consulted, the parish council considered the proposed extinguishment order and resolved to support it rather than to ask for highway improvements. Bedford Borough Council did not receive a response from the parish council anyway. Poor show parish councillors.

Nevertheless, a good result I think.