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.