Monday, 14 November 2016

Bedford Footpath No. 18 Deserves Better

Bedford Footpath No. 18
(Click the image to expand it)
The original route of Bedford Footpath No. 18 ran from the east side of Newnham Avenue, Bedford (at a point almost opposite Greenshields Road) and followed the line of the ditch (on its northern side) to Barkers Lane. It was a well-used, unsurfaced, direct route to and from Priory Country Park, especially favoured by those walking a dog or indeed anyone preferring a more enjoyable, safer off-road, off-cycle-shared pavement, access to the park.
It can be a hard life for a footpath in Bedford Borough though and this one has had more than its fair share of troubles; the western side was stopped up (which is why that part is no longer shown on the map above) so now the public have to use part of Bridleway No. 45 (sharing it with cyclists, and those using a moped or car) and Footpath No. 44 instead, and; the eastern side was obstructed when it was built upon at the Industrial Estate so the footpath had to be diverted. The latest threat to what remains of its route has been made by Bedford Borough Council which has given itself planning permission to expand its Brunel Road Depot, which the footpath crosses. The Council doesn’t want a footpath crossing the proposed enlarged site so it has made a public path order to divert it to a route around it which I have formally objected to.

I would have preferred to keep on using the footpath as it was before our Council tampered with it. As it might have been centuries ago if and when those at or visiting Newnham Priory (founded 1156) may have used it. That's not possible now because of what has already been disposed of but I am trying to keep what is left as it is.
In simple terms, if a local authority wants to divert a footpath it can make a public path diversion order and then after the required period, confirm it. Once that is done, the new route of the footpath becomes the public right of way and the old one is stopped up - extinguished forever - rendered as dead as a certain parrot. The local authority cannot confirm an order if anyone formally objects to it. Therefore, if an objection is made the process is stalled. But the local authority can send an opposed order to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs who has the power to confirm an opposed order. The Secretary of State appoints an Inspector who considers the arguments made for and against the order at a formal public inquiry, or at an informal hearing or by an exchange of correspondence. In due course, the Inspector will then either, confirm the order as it stands, confirm the order with modifications or refuse to confirm it.

The case for and against the diversion of Bedford Footpath No. 18 has been dealt with by an exchange of correspondence and a decision is imminent.

It's a situation that could have been avoided. In the first place I don't think that it is necessary to divert the footpath to enable the development, nevertheless, there was scope for a compromise. However, the Council were dismissive of my concerns and suggestions. One concern being the expense; amongst other things, the Council proposes to "improve" the surface of the footpath at a cost of over £22,000.00. Public path orders made to enable development, especially when the Council is the developer, are notoriously difficult to stop so the Council officials were and probably remain confident of winning their case.

You can see a copy of the diversion proposal plan HERE. And the Secretary of State’s Notice of the Order HERE which also contains a copy of the Order.
I will spare you sight of most of the correspondence but HERE is my Statement of Case and response to the Council’s submission. It may be of interest or it may be of use if a public footpath (or other public right of way) that you have an interest in is threatened by your local authority.

Update 26 Nov 16:

The Council has its way - sadly, the public path diversion order is confirmed. The decision letter can be seen HERE.

Monday, 7 November 2016

As Easy As 1,2,3

Click to enlarge image

In the October 2016 edition of its monthly online magazine “Borough Monthly”, Bedford Borough Council informs us that:

“The Council has launched a new online tool for reporting issues on roads and foot paths [sic] around the Borough. The new ReportIt [naff for report it] tool allows residents to report a number of issues quickly and easily online, including:

Drainage and flooding
Grass, hedges, trees and weeds
Snow, ice and gritting
Signage and lines
Street lighting
Traffic signals”

It’s a pretty neat system. CheckIt (sorry) out HERE

However, when they say “foot paths” (there’s no such thing by the way) they don’t mean public footpaths because they along with the other types of public rights of way (public bridleways etc) are not included as a “required field” which must be completed when submitting a report. And they don’t mean “footways” which is the correct term for pavements which is listed. For some reason only eleven of the twelve available fields are listed in the article - “Bridges” having been omitted.

There are lots of problems on public rights of way and the procedure enabling the public to report them should be improved. Improvements have been promised but they are a long time coming so it seems a lost opportunity to me that it’s not part of this new system. I interpret this as yet more evidence that public rights of way are not really on the council’s list of things that it thinks about a lot or at least as much as it should because it has a legal duty to look after them.

GetAGripOfIt Councillors.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Maulden Footpath No. 28

Central Bedfordshire Council's Development Management Committee

At its meeting on 12th October, Central Bedfordshire Council’s Development Management Committee considered an update on Maulden Footpath No. 28.
In 2013 the committee had (1) refused an application to delete the path from the definitive map, (2) approved an application to extinguish the path, and (3) approved an application to have the path stopped up; the case for stopping up the path to be heard at the magistrates’ court if the public path extinguishment order procedure failed, or vice versa because the committee had not said in which order it should be dealt with.
Two procedures to get rid of a public right of way might seem like a belt and bracers approach but the appropriate idiom escapes me in this case because these two procedures were only the latest attempts to close the path. See HERE for Central Bedfordshire Council's account of the sequence of events which include: a 1995 Definitive Map Modification Order unsuccessfully opposed; three failed extinguishment orders (1998, 2000 and 2013); a diversion order (2004); a variation order (2010); numerous public inquiries; three court appearances linked to wilful obstruction of a public right of way; two magistrates' court hearings; appeals to the Secretary of State; and an application to the High Court.
One might be in awe of the incredible tenacity of a landowner who does not believe there is a public right of way over his land and has fought for at least 24 years to have it removed - or not (in awe). One might be appreciative of those prepared to defend public rights of way - or not (appreciative). One might also reflect that we live in country where either side has the right and freedom to fight its cause. However, I do not know what one is to make of Central Bedfordshire Council’s and its predecessor, the former Mid Bedfordshire District Council's, decisions for pursuing the case for so long, against its officers' advice, after so many failed attempts at a huge cost to the public purse measured in tens of thousands of pounds.
After discussing the issue for over an hour on 12th October, Central Bedfordshire Council decided to rescind its 2013 resolution to apply to the magistrates' court for a stopping up order.
All attempts to delete or close the path have failed, the latest plan will not proceed. It seems that the Maulden FP28 saga is over. Long live Maulden Footpath No 28.
Previous posts on Maulden FP 28 can be found HERE (26 Jun 14), HERE (2 Sep 14), HERE (5 Sep 15) and HERE (7 Oct 15).

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Wilden Footpath No.6 - Good News

Click image to expand it
Some good news to report at last. And facts rather than the fibs – some local readers, who commented to me personally, didn’t catch on that my last post was a work of fiction, it being posted on 1st April.

Bedford Borough Council has proposed that part of Wilden Footpath No. 6 be diverted (and a redundant part of FP7 be extinguished). The unavailability of Wilden FP6 because it is obstructed through gardens is an issue which I have been complaining about for some time now. See HERE and HERE.

The proposal makes sense and receives my wholehearted support as representative of the Open Spaces Society. If the proposal is successful with public path orders being made and confirmed then it will be the end of a long-running saga. But more importantly, the public will be able to exercise their right to walk a footpath that links Renhold Road and Barford Road again.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Bedford Borough Public Rights of Way - Good news?

Bedford Borough Council is to buck the national (English and Welsh) trend of cutting public rights of way budgets. I’m very pleased to say that there are plans to allocate new funds in order to form a small Definitive Map Team.

The Council currently employs one temporary definitive map officer on a short-term contract following the recent resignation of the full time officer. The temporary officer’s contract ends this month.

News of the new team has not been broadcast generally because the posts are ring-fenced to current Council employees. But it is expected to be formally announced shortly when the posts will be more widely advertised and open to all.

A source at Borough Hall has told me that the Council had quietly accepted that it had not been properly carrying out it its legal duties to protect our public rights of way, that some councillors had been making a noise because they wanted to see progress in reaching targets set out in the Council’s Rights of Way Improvement Plan, and that they wanted council officers to work urgently to catch up with the Council’s duties which affect the Definitive Map and Statement, whilst acknowledging that the current staffing levels made the task impossible. The Definitive Map and Statement is the legal record of public rights of way which the Council, as the Surveying Authority, has the legal duty to maintain.

The new team’s priority will be to carry out the research necessary to find and record all public rights of way in the Borough. There is no Definitive Map and Statement for the inner part of Bedford, which in this context is known as “The Excluded Area”, despite the Council having the legal duty to publish one. And it is known that there are unrecorded rights of way elsewhere in the Borough, which will be lost forever if not recorded before the Government’s “Cut-off date” on 1 January 2026.

It is likely that the Council will impose a moratorium on the processing of new applications from landowners wanting to divert or extinguish footpaths and bridleways. This would allow the new team to concentrate on its legal duty to consolidate (periodically legally update) the Definitive Map and Statement which the Council had promised it would do by December 2014, and to clear the backlog of current applications some of which have been in progress for years. My source said that a new team would allow more time for other rights of way officers (all part time) to take a stronger stance and enforcement in cases where footpaths were obstructed because they had not been reinstated after cultivation.

This will be a feather in Mayor Dave’s cap and of the Deputy Mayor’s, Councillor Charles Royden, who is the Portfolio Holder responsible for public rights of way in Bedford Borough, although some may think that it is a politically motivated move rather than a love of footpaths.

Good news eh? Or is it wishful thinking? Or is it today’s date?

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

A Spanner In The Works?

Kimbolton, Pertenhall & Little Staughton Order Map
Bedford Borough Council has made public path orders (two in the first case) to divert and create public footpaths in the parishes of Kimbolton (Cambridgeshire), Pertenhall and Little Staughton, and (secondly) twelve - yes 12, public path orders to create, divert and extinguish footpaths and bridleways in the parishes of Ravensden and Thurleigh.
You can see the order map for the first case HERE and the second HERE.
The orders, which stem from applications from landowners (one is a Bedford Borough Councillor) have been made because council officers, on behalf of the Council, consider it is expedient (to create), in the interests of the landowners (to divert), and because the paths are not needed by the public (to extinguish).
I am opposed to the orders in principle because, as I said HERE, I believe the Council should use its limited resources to focus on public rights of way issues which it has said are a higher priority - paths which cannot be used because they are obstructed, or anomalies such as dead end paths for instance, and unrecorded rights of way - rather than spend its time and our money on costly orders such as those mentioned above.
Objecting on principle cuts no ice when it comes to opposing public path orders however. An objection has to be judged valid in law; that the order does not meet the test(s) of the legislation.

The costs of making public path orders (some of which can be recovered from the applicant for an order) arise from the administrative and legal procedures which include site visits, negotiations, drafting and preparation of orders and maps, consultations, correspondence, drafting and sealing orders, erecting notices on the affected paths, advertising the orders in local newspapers with copies sent to prescribed bodies, etc. It can be a lengthy process and a drain on resources. And there’s more to do after orders are made because the council then has to confirm them which it cannot do if anyone objects.
I have formally objected. In order to complete the process the Council will have to submit the orders to the Secretary of State for the case to be heard at two public inquiries where an Inspector appointed by the Secretary of State will hear the arguments for and against before deciding the outcome.
I may have put a spanner in the works though.
Public Path Order Regulations state that "The map required to be contained in an order shall be on a scale of not less than 1:2500, or, if no such map is available, on the largest scale readily available."
The maps contained in these orders are on a scale of 1:5000. In my opinion a map on a scale of 1:2500 was readily available.

It is my view that the Council has not complied with the regulations so the orders are flawed. If that is true then it is also my contention that the Secretary of State does not have the power to amend such a substantial defect and the fourteen public path orders will have to be abandoned - a formal process which has to be advertised.
But would the Council start all over again. I expect it would.

Friday, 19 February 2016

An email to the Mayor of Bedford Borough - Update

I received a response to my emails to the Mayor of Bedford Borough – from a paid assistant rather than the man. It’s “budget pressures” stupid, which would be easier for me to accept if the full council had not resolved last month to increase elected members’ allowances. And to pad out the response the writer thought to include what sounded like a Cliché Of The Day which that day was “the need to work together”.

I hear you say it Dear Reader: “I could have told you so.” Or “What did you expect?”

It had to be said though. I tick the box that I said what I felt I had to say and the Mayor’s assistant consigns my concerns to the No Further Action or Thought Bin.

More chance of action had I sent a hard copy of my email up the chimney to the man’s merrier lookalike methinks. Next Christmas then …

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

An email to the Mayor of Bedford Borough

Dave Hodgson, Mayor of Bedford Borough

An email to Dave Hodgson, Mayor of Bedford Borough:

"Dear Mr Mayor,

It is now over a month since I wrote to you and I have not received your reply. If there has been a technical hitch then I would be grateful if you would forward your email or send me a copy of your letter, and I should like to apologise for having thought ill of you. Otherwise I would be grateful for the courtesy of your reply please.

It is a common occurrence for me to have to chase the Council for replies to my correspondence (this is the second such email today). I wonder if you can understand the frustration and irritation a member of the public might feel when they do not receive a response to correspondence. Some time ago now, in an effort to understand and improve communications I wrote to ask what the Council’s customer care policy was when replying to correspondence. The document that I received and kept states that an acknowledgement should be sent within three days if a full answer was likely to take longer, and that a full answer should be sent within ten days.

The Council has some fine customer care and public rights of way policies but it seems to me that it’s nothing to be proud of if the policies are not upheld.

The purpose of my correspondence and actions over the past few years has been to improve the public rights of way network in the Borough. I have not been successful. Numerous paths still cannot be used because even though the published policy (as contained in the ROWIP) is to open them, the priorities and actions have not been to do so. If I was convinced that you were interested in public rights of way, and if you had the budget that you would wish for, then I could be sure that our public rights of way would be in better shape and it would be a network to be proud of. Bedford could strive to become a Walkers Welcome town and borough  and the public and business could reap the benefits. It seems to me that as a portion of the Council’s budget and compared with the returns of the investment it would not require much more to noticeably improve our public rights of way.

You could make a start, if you haven’t already, by taking a closer personal interest in public rights of way. I feel that public rights of way needs a ”champion” – an elected member to ensure that the Council has the will and sufficient resources to carry out its legal duties as the Highway Authority and the Surveying Authority. For instance, in my opinion there is a vital need for a Senior Definitive Map Officer with at least one assistant to oversee and implement some of those duties. If the Council is not prepared to up the ante in securing a better than average Definitive Map Officer then it will not reap the benefits I talk of.

In addition to my question below [contained in my email dated 8th January], I should like to ask if you will do more to have our public rights of way improved, at least to a standard required by law and consistent with Council policies, and to seriously and urgently take into account the likely effects of the 2026 cut-off date given that there are numerous unrecorded rights of way in the Borough, and given that the Council currently only has a temporary (short term) definitive map officer?
Yours sincerely,
Brian Cowling
OSS Local Correspondent, Bedford Borough
The Open Spaces Society is a registered charity (no 1144840) and a company limited by guarantee, registered in England & Wales (no 7846516). "

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

A Definitive Map Officer - Who, What and Why

Bedford Borough Council does not have a Definitive Map Officer. “Who? What?” I hear you say. Or if you know what the officer’s job involves and the importance of it then you may be thinking – “Why?”
The “Why?” first.
The incumbent resigned and left the Council on 8th January. The Council had at least one month’s advance notice of his departure but has not yet advertised to recruit a replacement. This may be because of the default inertia of officialdom, or by design because budget holders might see the vacancy as an opportunity to save or divert resources. Unfortunately, the Council has form on such tactics and may not have learnt the lessons of its past mistakes and of the pitfalls of false economies. The last time that the DM Officer post was left vacant it led to a legal situation (at Guru Ravidass Lane, Bedford) which cost the Council over £20k. And, an already swollen backlog of definitive map issues was allowed to grow.
And the “Who and What”?
The job is to manage Bedford Borough Council’s Definitive Map and Statement (DM&S) and to advise all and sundry on DM&S legislation, policy and procedures. The DM&S is the legal record of the position and status of public rights of way. See HERE for more information.
The officer’s duties and responsibilities in Bedford Borough include:
  • Identifying, negotiating and adding public rights of way in what is known as the Bedford Excluded Area (an area for which there is no DM&S) and recording paths that will otherwise be lost following the year 2026 deadline;
This work has been of an urgent nature since the year 2000 when legislation was enacted to complete the definitive map process which had started in 1949. If left unrecorded, even public rights of way in general use in Bedford – alleyways off Bedford High Street and paths at the Embankment alongside the River Great Ouse for example – will not be protected, as well as rights of way not in use or of which the public is unaware. Numerous paths throughout Bedford Borough may be lost forever unless they are claimed and recorded before 1st January 2026.
  • Delivering DM&S related actions in the Council’s Rights of Way Improvement Plan;
Nothing has been delivered over the targeted 4-year period 2012-2016.
  • And processing applications for Public Path Orders and for Definitive Map Modification Orders to resolve anomalies and problems on the DM&S; and to create additional public rights of way including undertaking any necessary research and negotiations along with witness interviews.
Rather than concentrating on the above, in the recent past the Council has focussed on processing applications from landowners for public path orders to be made in their interests and at some cost to the public purse.
Generally, what “the council” does or doesn’t do is a mystery to the public and even inter-departmentally at the Council. Elected councillors show little or no interest in public rights of way – possibly because of public ignorance (and theirs) and there being no votes in it for them.
The Council has a legal, and I believe moral, duty to protect our public rights of way. It isn’t doing so properly because it doesn’t, amongst other things, provide sufficient resources. It should urgently appoint a well-motivated person capable of fulfilling the post of definitive map officer, having cast a wider net by offering a better than average salary. I am concerned that the Council will do neither of these things.

Friday, 8 January 2016


Willington Bridleway No. 4 which Bedford Borough Council want to move from the track (right of trees) to the field (left of the trees) at the expense of the public purse.

In what seems like a sudden burst of activity, Bedford Borough Council has consulted on several individual proposals to realign public footpaths and bridleways arising from applications from landowners. Landowners have the right to apply for public path orders to create, extinguish and divert public paths on their land, and the Council has the power to make such orders; creating them because it considers it is expedient to do so, extinguishing them when it considers paths are not needed, and diverting paths in the interests of landowners, occupiers or the public. But note the word “power” which means that the Council can make path orders but it doesn’t have to. Oh, and also note, that when I say "the Council", I mean council officers because they make the decisions - not the elected members. Here in Bedford Borough, councillors are not involved in public rights of way other than to be informed of proposals in their ward.
Councillors and council officers say (and I agree) that the Council is short of public rights of way resources.
Therein lies my beef.
My view is that the Council should prioritise and concentrate on what it must do (legal duties like ensuring that paths are available for the public) rather than waste resources (time and money) on what it has discretion to do (public path order applications).
Look at THIS application in the parish of Willington, and THIS one in the parish of Bletsoe – both are to divert paths out of farm yards (I’ll spare you Dear Reader the details of a really crazy proposal in Wyboston). You can see my response to the consultations HERE and HERE.
In a full page advertisement in the Bedfordshire on Sunday newspaper, The Mayor of Bedford stated that there is a funding crisis and has asked Bedford Borough residents on where services can be changed, and for ideas for how to save money and operate more efficiently.
My suggestion is that the Council could save money by imposing a moratorium on the processing of public path order applications for which it is claimed are in the interests of landowners.