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.

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