Friday, 26 June 2015

Wilden Footpath No. 6


Arial view showing Wilden Footpath No. 6 (Click image to enlarge it)
Bedford Borough Council declares on its WEBSITE and elsewhere that there are over 980 kilometres (over 600 miles) of public rights of way in the borough. What is not said though is how much is available for use or more to my point – how much is not. It certainly isn’t all available as it should be because numerous paths are obstructed; temporarily by cultivation and crops or overgrown vegetation for instance; or more permanently by buildings or for other reasons.
Wilden Footpath No. 6 (FP6) is obstructed where it passes through the gardens of six properties in the village of Wilden.
The original route of the path ran east – west until part of it was diverted in 1973 to facilitate the building of five properties at what is now Mayes Close, Wilden. It would seem logical (to me at least) that the diverted part of the path would follow a route around and outside the boundary of the properties. The Mayes Close residents believe that to be the case and I have seen evidence that one of the residents was given information, in a local authority search prior to purchase, that the path ran outside the property. Others believed it too; there are claims that the public walked an outer route, and it is said that the previous owner of the land over which an outer route was allegedly used seemed to accept it as so.
When the definitive map was digitised in 1999 the new route of FP6 was seen to be obstructed by the fencing and gardens of 1 – 5 Mayes Close. The path is also obstructed through the property known as Verna which was built after the properties at Mayes Close. North Bedfordshire Borough Council, as the then planning authority, should have made an order to divert that part of the path to enable development of Verna but didn’t.
Despite differing views and wishes, it is a matter of legal fact that FP6 runs through the gardens because that it is where it is depicted as running on the definitive map.
Various schemes have been proposed to resolve the problem, the latest being to divert the part of the path through Verna to a route along and inside its southern boundary, the new path to be 2 metres wide enclosed by an 8 foot fence and the existing (3-40 foot) leylandii hedge. The proposal plan can be seen HERE. And then, presumably, to insist eventually that the route through the gardens be made available. It is a scheme I have described as “half-baked”. In the words of Bedford Borough Council:
“It is of course, recognised that this proposal leaves the situation at the eastern end of Mayes Close entirely unresolved. However, finding a comprehensive solution to the whole problem has proven elusive over the last 13 years and so it is perhaps worthwhile to seek small incremental gains as opportunities allow rather than continue to hold out for an all-encompassing solution in vain. It is in this context that the present proposal is being made.”
The proposal to make a diversion order has been made by one council officer and the decision to approve or refuse the recommendation will be made by another council officer. I think a committee of elected councillors should decide whether or not public path orders should be made – at least contentious ones but my views have been disregarded.
In my opinion an enclosed path at the southern end of Verna leading to a path through the gardens of 1-5 Mayes Close would not be a path as enjoyable for use by the public as would one that would run unenclosed and outside (immediately south of) the properties, along what is a grassed surface agricultural access track. The owners of that land have not given consent for such a path (although, dear reader, you may be interested to know that the council, as the highway authority, has the power to create a public footpath without landowner consent).
I’m not so sure that the owners of the land over which the access track runs have been asked properly (nicely) or that incentives have been offered or fully discussed so I have asked the council officer to delay his decision to allow me to make further enquires. The officer has agreed to put the proposal on hold for three weeks (till 9 July). Better than the Old Wild West I think where cowboys were sometimes given until noon to sort things out.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

The Big Pathwatch - Summer 2015

Bedford Footpath No. 1 (click to enlarge the image)

On 13th July, the Ramblers will be launching a survey of all public paths in England and Wales as shown on Ordnance Survey maps. The Ramblers are calling for volunteers to help and you don’t have to be a member of the Ramblers to take part.

You just have to register for one or more one-kilometre squares and walk all the paths shown on the Ordnance Survey map in that/those grid square/s and then report what you find to the Ramblers. There will be a free phone app to assist reporting or paperwork. If you don’t have or don't wish to use a smart phone then you will be able to print off a map and survey card, complete it and upload your findings.

The Ramblers say that they will use the results to assess the state of the rights of way network and then come up with solutions to ensure the network is protected. Highway Authorities have a legal duty to do that anyway but sadly most (including my own local authority – Bedford Borough Council) are getting away with not doing so, therefore numerous public rights of way are unusable.

For example here in Bedford, part of Bedford Footpath No. 1 cannot be used because Bedford Borough Council (formerly North Bedfordshire Borough Council) gave planning permission for Goldington Academy (formerly Goldington Middle School) to be built over it.

More information about the Big Pathwatch and how to pre-register HERE.