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.

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