|Looking towards Keysoe|
Wednesday, 12 April 2017
As the highway authority, Bedford Borough Council has various legal powers which enable it to carry out its statutory public rights of way duties including: “To assert and protect the rights of the public to the use and enjoyment of any highway for which they are the highway authority, including any roadside waste which forms part of it.” (Highways Act 1980, Section 130(1). The same various powers can be used at the Council's discretion for other, non-statutory rights of way purposes – things that it can do but doesn’t have to, like diverting paths for instance.
Our Council says it does not have sufficient resources to do everything it is required to, so complaints regarding its failure to fulfil its duties are not always followed up and resolved.
My argument is that if the Council doesn’t have enough resources then it must first carry out all its statutory duties before spending time and money (if any remain) to do the things it can but doesn’t have to. Simple right?
But our council officers (for it is they, not our elected members who decide) choose to do otherwise.
Last year, Bedford Borough Council made twelve public path orders to change the public rights of way network in the parishes of Thurleigh and Ravensden because the landowner wants the paths, some of which he has obstructed, laid out differently. However, the orders were flawed so they will have to be abandoned and the Council has said that they will make new orders. Let me call these: Jobs-to-Do - Nos. 1 & 2.
The Council also made public path orders in the interests of the landowner at the parishes of Stonely (Cambs), Pertenhall & Little Staughton. The orders were flawed as well so will have to be abandoned and the Council has said they too will be re-made: Jobs-to-Do – Nos. 3 & 4. Consultations have been carried out for separate public path orders at Bletsoe; Colmworth; Staploe; Wilden; Willington; Wilstead; and Wyboston: Jobs-to-Do - Nos. 5 to 11.
There is a small backlog of applications for Definitive Map Modification Orders (DMMOs). DMMO applications can be made by any member of the public where they consider there is evidence that a path should be added to or deleted from the Definitive Map and Statement. The Council is supposed to deal with applications within 12 months of receipt but hasn’t. And an opposed DMMO made in 2006 awaits action. More Jobs-to-Do. And more besides. I think you get the picture.
It would seem sensible to me, necessary even, to get to get rid of or get to work on the list of jobs outstanding. But no - our Council chooses instead to add another three jobs to its list. Last month consultees were “notified” that an order will be made to divert a footpath in the interests of a landowner at Wilden, another order will be made to divert a footpath in the interests of a landowner at Dean & Shelton (both to field edges where they will be fenced in), and an order will be made to extinguish a harmless bridleway at Oakley, at a cost to the public purse.
It seems wrong to me that Bedford Borough Council chooses to use its powers to change the public rights of way network as a result of applications from landowners (a discretionary function and at some cost to the public purse) rather than focussing on its statutory duties? And it doesn’t make sense to me that having decided to make path orders that the process is then put on hold whilst they propose making more.
The only reason for making a public path diversion order is that it would be in the interests of the public, or of the owner (or lessee or occupier) of the land crossed by the path, or both. Bedford Borough Council should sort out its priorities to attend to its statutory duties, and in the meantime impose a moratorium on the processing of applications for public path orders made in the interests of landowners.