Regular readers may recall my previous blog highlighting the making & advertising of a diversion order on Spen 110 back in March. In that article a bucket full of scorn was poured over Kirklees for making such an order during the Covid 19 travel restrictions on public movement. In effect the council were asking the public for comment on a proposal when it was illegal to go and visit the site in question. Requests to re advertise the order when restrictions were lifted fell on deaf ears.
PathWatch has subsequently discovered that Kirklees had a temporary closure order on Spen 110 (the section subject to the diversion application) to facilitate safe demolition of the leisure centre buildings. This temporary closure order ran out on 31st January 2020. At that point Spen 110 should have been reopened to public use. It’s worth noting that the granting of any planning permission affecting a public right of way does not in itself permit the movement of, damage to, or construction of anything on the path until a lengthy legal diversion process has been completed successfully. One outcome of that process is that the path may not be diverted and the development, as proposed, cannot not go ahead. See Holmfirth Footpath 60 which fell at an early hurdle in the Grand National diversion race. There are problems with the council’s diversion proposals for Spen 110 which need properly addressing through this process.
I am sure by now you have guessed where all this is leading. Spen Footpath 110 has of course been completely obstructed by site fencing at the council owned development. The public footpath sign off Bradford Road points straight at an unscalable fence whilst at the other end a view of the path apparently being dug up can be had through the more open fencing. The council have confirmed that the path was not reopened on expiry of the temporary closure on 31st January but remained illegally closed for some three and a half months until 14th May.
PathWatch asked Kirklees on 12th May to confirm that Spen 110 had reopened as legally required on 31st January . On the 19th May Kirklees sent a copy of an “emergency” closure notice they had placed on the path on 14th May . This closes the path legally until 3rd June at which point a further 6 month closure will come into force lasting into December . A cynic might suggest that it is no coincidence this emergency closure order appeared 2 days after my enquiry. The council say it is a “mix up”.
Clearly Kirklees have illegally obstructed their own footpath for three and a half months. Reputable authorities would normally only issue an emergency closure for…well… an emergency. Something like damage,danger,flooding etc. Cock ups aren’t really the intended purpose for this legislation. One of the reasons cited in the closure order is “demolition” despite all buildings on site having already been knocked down!Kirklees have now said that Spen 110 may remain closed with the use of temporary orders until 2022.
In closing, digging up and placing permanent fencing on Spen 110, whilst at the same time constructing and providing part of the proposed new route, Kirklees are arguably giving the impression that the diversion process is a forgone conclusion. The use of emergency and temporary closures to keep a path shut for the duration of a diversion process is very poor practice from a local authority. This sort of situation does tend to undermine the legal process and really should be avoided.
Kirklees are funding most of the high profile £15 million Spenborough pool development at this site. They are the planning applicant, landowner and applicant for the diversion order. They are also the Highway Authority for Spen 110 with a duty to ensure such paths are not obstructed or built on. It is therefore essential that they not just do things properly but are seen to do so. If a public body responsible for both planning and rights of way cannot manage the related legal processes correctly and maintain public confidence they could very well set an unhelpful precedent for private companies to follow.
The council could pull back the site boundary a few metres so that Spen 110 remains open and outside the site. This would protect the path from further “mix ups” and leave it intact until the diversion process is properly concluded.