Previously on PathWatch we’ve blogged about Kirklees piss poor answers into its standards of governance and decision making process regarding Ramsden Road. Regular readers will recall that Kirklees spent 2018 securing an Experimental Traffic Regulation Order prohibiting motor vehicles on the route. This cost the taxpayer around £10K. The councils’ stated view was that this closure was essential to protect Ramsden Road from ongoing damage by vehicles and to protect the proposed repairs which it had agreed to carry out in 2019.
Without any explanation or obvious decision making process this was all dropped around 10th December 2018. It took a freedom of information request to get an explanation from our publicly funded council and in May 2019 they came up with “The decision was based on a visual assessment of the road and discussion with colleagues and the Peak Park on the most equitable way forward.” This would class as an insult to the intelligence of a single cell amoeba with an interest in rights of way let alone a human being. Crucially the answer contains no facts, such as whether this was a delegated officer decision, a committee decision or some other kind of formal decision. It contains no evidence showing how and why the decision was made. No manager,director or officer is named . No date is provided as to when the decision was made and there is no reference to any documentation involved in the process.
The Council’s Head of Legal Services upheld an appeal against this response and asked the service to answer this question again. In his words ” you should be provided with further information as to who took the decision not to proceed with the ETRO and additional information to the reasoning behind the decision.”
Given the Head of Legal services clear commitment to provide this information it was a surprise to receive the following as an answer. “Reviewing this matter, the Service determined that it was arguable that the making of the ETRO was procedurally flawed in that the road haulers association was not included in the consultation – they are a statutory consultee, the groups who were most impacted then contacted the Council and advised they would take the matter to court to challenge. In light of these representations and the consultation issue mentioned above the decision was taken to not continue with the ETRO.” Again the absence of a date, names of officers/managers/directors involved, reference to a committee report or delegated officer decision is striking. It is taking the piss to a new level but it is not an answer to the question asked. Amusingly it also completely contradicts the original “equitable way forward” answer.
There is the slightest hint of something here ” In light of these representations and the consultation issue mentioned above the decision was taken to not continue with the ETRO.” but of course no detail. The Council is keeping very quiet about who it met and what was discussed or agreed prior to the public meeting on 22nd January 2019.
In an email dated 21st January 2019 the Kirklees Greenspace Manager, Rob Dalby tells Councillor Nigel Patrick that he has “met with the TRF(trail riders fellowship) informally and had a very informative conversation” . That wasn’t mentioned at the public meeting in January 2019 and PathWatch is not aware of the council holding “informative conversations” with other interested user groups – quite the opposite in fact. The council had agreed in writing with one walkers group to repair Ramsden Road this year. To date it has never contacted them to advise this is not happening.
This latest answer is nonsense. The council completely ignored walkers groups who contacted it pointing out the school boy errors in it’s legal order and at the time it gave assurances to at least one mountain bike group that it would correct the errors and continue. Of course errors can be corrected and are not in themselves any reason to abandon a process in which time,money and reputation has been invested in. Have the Council agreed to something through embarrassment at their errors, through political pressure or lack of experience in these matters? Who are the “groups most impacted” ? Did the council meet these groups ahead of the January 2019 public meeting and agree a course of action behind closed doors? Certainly what is being presented to the public is not the truth.
It matters because scarce public money has already been wasted here and a valuable public asset is not being managed properly. Further monies from the public purse or voluntary subscription, by the council’s own admission, may also be at risk because of the damage motor vehicles do on unsealed roads like Ramsden Road.
Why is the council finding it so hard to explain it’s change of stance from promoting a legal order banning vehicles on Ramsden Road and blaming the damage to the road on 4×4’s to the complete opposite? If it is doing things properly and in the public interest then surely it can put forward an evidence based answer to this question? There must be some compelling reason to abandon a years work, waste the public money spent and risk the councils already damaged reputation in these matters. What is that reason?
The council’s position on Ramsden Road and the ETRO was explained clearly by Rob Dalby,Greenspace Manager in an email to Councillor Nigel Patrick on 1st May 2018. “As to the issue with Ramsden Road, it is not safe at present, this is not being helped by the actions of a minority of users, but to make the route available for the majority of users then works need to happen, and they need to be allowed to bed in. This is why an experimental TRO is proposed” Compare the clarity of that answer to the two received to the Freedom of Information request.
Council officers have had correspondence from Councillor Nigel Patrick on this issue in support of motor vehicle use on Ramsden Road. In an email dated 28th November 2018 Councillor Patrick says “at least both key vehicle user groups are aware and they both have the legal clout to take action against the council”. On 24th August 2018 Rob Dalby (Greenspace Manager) supplies Councillor Patrick with the s56 notices served on Kirklees for Ramsden Road by a walkers group. Why would he need to see these? He also asks in an email dated 22nd August 2018 “Please could you tell me if (redacted) has been involved in the s56 notice? (Redacted) name keeps cropping up in relation to footpath issues” Why would Councillor Patrick ask to know the name of a volunteer trying to get a public right of way repaired? What would he do with that person’s name?Does he ask for the names of people who report potholes or street lights?
There’s evidence and a paper trail to show the original decision (which was discussed with political leads,copied to the Chief Exec, Strategic Director and ward councillors) but there is absolutely nothing for the change of tack. Why?