It’s very rare I turn back on a footpath or even think of turning back but this Grand National style course really tested my jumping abilities. Stock proof fencing, electric fencing, post and rail fencing and a drystone wall all come at the walker thick and fast on a testing uphill course. There’s even a water jump!
These things might be hard to get over when walking but none of them are very difficult to remove as obstructions go and yet this path is another gleaming example of the generosity shown to those acting illegally by our local council.
Now I’m not particularly impressed with our Councils template of volunteers compliantly supplying cheap labour to cover basic services yet I would happily volunteer to take my wire cutters and saw along this path to clear it. Could sort it in half an hour and I wouldn’t even want a condescending pat on the back.
However instead of this controversial but arguably more effective use of volunteers Kirklees sent a member of staff up from Huddersfield over a year ago following reports from a reader of this blog of the path being obstructed. There was a half hearted assurance that something would be done but (surprise! surprise! as Cilla used to say) nothing was of course.
I’m aware my blog reader supplied Kirklees with excellent information including photographs and grid references of each obstruction. In fact the reader is a long standing inspector for Peak & Northern Footpaths Society and is as knowledgeable and skilled in the dark arts of public rights of way as anyone at Kirklees.
So an actionless year later and after visiting the my path myself I sent in a list of grid references,photographs and descriptions of obstructions on Footpath 150 identical to those of my blog reader the previous year. The cash strapped council took a break from closing children’s playgrounds and libraries to send a member of staff (the same one that visited a year ago) to the footpath to no doubt record the exact same situation as the previous year. I was then sent a similar response to my reader along the lines of “we’re asking nicely for the nice people to unblock the footpath” Hmmmm.
The point I am trying to make here is this. The Council, who are responsible for rights of way, are continually bleating about how they cannot do anything about anything because they are broke. Yet they continue to work in the most wasteful and inefficient manner as described above. How can they afford to send staff out on site to the same problems year after year,taking the same photographs,logging the same obstructions and fobbing off the public with the same cheap excuses? This case is not an isolated one. It seems to be standard practice when a member of the public reports any issue on a right of way in Kirklees requiring any degree of gumption or effort to resolve. If the council applied the law evenly,followed its own procedures and took timely and rechargeable enforcement action it would be far more efficient and cost effective.
The cost of its current modus operandi must be a substantial loss both in terms of hard cash and a lack of any meaningful results for the public.
The Council should have accepted it cocked up a year ago but rather than send out a member of staff again it actually has all the information it needs to take effective enforcement action. There are two detailed reports from members of the public which corroborated each other and presumably that of its staff member the previous year. Google Earth is excellent for having a look at things without going outside too and the path obstructions are clearly visible in this case. The Council have access to Land Registry records to establish the owners. No need at all to spend time on a 20 mile round trip to look at what you already know is there!
From the information at hand letters and notices could have been sent out and a site visit would only be required if the owners did not supply photographic evidence of an open and usable footpath within a specified timescale (lets say 6 weeks). At that point it is worth visiting the site to clear the obstructions but crucially these costs can be fully recharged to the owners. So by now everything would be sorted and at minimal or no cost to the taxpayer.
How hard can it be?
Instead some 15 months after my reader reported the path obstructed and nearly 8 weeks since I contacted Kirklees the path remains blocked.
There is a mechanism under the Highways Act s130A for members of the public to serve notice on local authorities asking for removal of obstructions and such a notice was served on Kirklees on 2nd November 2017. This has resulted in one of the landowners removing some electric fencing but the more substantial obstructions remain.
Despite the complete lack of cooperation here from those acting illegally the Council has not yet served any legal notices on those responsible. Nor has it expressed any commitment to do so.
This leaves the Council open to being taken to a magistrates court under the s130A process. Of course if this happens it will cost officer time, a solicitor, possibly advice from a barrister etc and if it loses it may be liable to pay the costs of the other party. All these costs would be in addition to what has already been spent on officer time and use of Council resources to date. It’s no wonder they are skint is it?