Friday, 6 January 2017

Wilstead Footpath No. 8 and Bedford Borough Council Favours

Wilstead FP8 - Looking south east from the area of Point E on the Council's plan
(Click image to enlarge it)
A short section (approximately 230 metres) of Wilstead Footpath No. 8 cannot be used by the public because it is unlawfully obstructed where a stable and a shed have been built upon it, and where fences and gates have been erected to create paddocks at The Stables Equestrian Centre, Wilstead.
Council's Proposal Plan with Council Officer's annotations
(Click image to enlarge it)
Bedford Borough Council, as the Highway Authority, has a legal duty to protect the public right of way but has failed to do so.
What should have happened? The landowner or tenant should have sought planning permission for change of land use (from agricultural to equestrian use) and for permission to erect a stable and shed, hand in hand with an application to divert the footpath to enable the development (Town and Country Planning Act 1990, Section 257). But they did not. The Borough Council, as the planning authority, should have taken enforcement action but they did not.
What can the Council do? It could have the obstructions removed (Highways Act 1980, Section 143: the power to require the removal of a structure or other obstruction from a right of way). Or it could require the landowner to apply for a public path order to divert the footpath (Highways Act 1980, Section 119).
The Council has estimated that it will cost up to £3000 to process a public path diversion order which it can recover from the applicant. That sum does not take into account the Council’s costs for a public inquiry which would ensue should anyone object to an order (which I will). Those costs would fall to the tax payer.
What is the Council going to do? It is going to ignore the planning permission issues and says it will make a public path diversion order at the expense of the public purse.
Why is the council dishing out favours? I think it is outrageous that the public should be expected to pay for this diversion – a diversion which is only deemed necessary because the landowner has developed land without planning permission and has unlawfully obstructed the public right of way, and because Bedford Borough Council has failed to carry out its legal duty. I don’t know what the circumstances were that led to the planning application failure but accept that we are where we are and that it would be harsh to have the stable, shed and fences removed. It seems reasonable to me that as a first step (because there is no guarantee of success when making a public path order) that the landowner should be required to apply and pay for a public path diversion order.
Decisions about making public path orders are not taken by Borough Councillors – it is left to council officers. Therefore, I have asked the Mayor of Bedford Borough to intervene arguing that using limited public funds to pay for this proposal is wrong, and at this time is especially hard to understand.
Recently, the Mayor wrote to residents about the need for savings and consulted on options to cut services and or increase the Council Tax because of Government cuts to Council funding. Bin collections throughout the Borough were changed to fortnightly rounds rather than weekly to save money. The talk now is of council tax increases and reduced services. This is not the time to be providing free services unnecessarily. And there should never be a time for rewarding landowners who obstruct public rights of way.
The Mayor considers “that it is reasonable for the Council to fund the cost of making this diversion.”
Given the facts that I’ve outlined here, I fail to see how anyone can think it reasonable that the public should pay.


  1. I agree with you. As for it being harsh in removing the structures, I disagree. The cheapest solution for the public purse would simply to have everything put back as it was.
    The perpetrators should be made to pay for *all* costs that arise.

    Good work, Sir.

  2. Thank YOU Sir.

    That's two of us - I could be on a roll ...