There are only 3 field paths in the Holme Valley which are across arable land. One at Netherthong which gets reinstated by sheer volume of public use, Holmfirth 135 (which Kirklees Officers have visited many times over the past 5 years without securing full reinstatement) and the Oilseed Rape Extreme Rambling Experience that is Holmfirth Footpath 45.
This is really basic public rights of way work and the fact that Kirklees cannot reach such a minimum requirement in the area speaks for itself. There seems to be a culture of the same requests from members of the public being passed to the same frontline staff on an annual basis without any effective action. The same sites and problems are visited over and over again but nothing happens.
This is not down to a lack of resources but an absence of training and proper oversight from managers. How can staff go out again and again to the same things without doing anything?
This must be one of the more obvious and seemingly straightforward path obstructions featured on PathWatch. A new 3 strand barbed wire fence strung across the old stone stile on Holmfirth 73. Real bread & butter work for any half competent highway authority. Whilst it’s great that it has now been removed it should never have taken 20 months to do it!
A little waymarking, vegetation clearance and general TLC to get the path back into a more user friendly condition overall is still needed.
PathWatch has monitored this route for 4 years and once again there has been no reinstatement of the path following ploughing and cropping within the 14 days required by law. Or at all in fact.
Interestingly Kirklees have owned up to having visited the path but have proffered no further information. Perhaps it was for a ramble, picnic or to enjoy the view? It certainly does not appear to have been to discharge the authorities duties under section 134 of the Highways Act.
The only difference on the ground is a crop of obstructing oats instead of barely and a wooden post at either end of the field marking the start/finish of Footpath 135 through the crop. This has had the effect of concentrating walkers onto a line and partly trampling the crop. It falls well short of full reinstatement within the legal definition. There should be a 1.2m clear width for Footpath 135 through this crop.
Public access to the English countryside by right is very limited. Most of it is on the country’s public rights of way network. A network that is legally recorded and protected to some extent by law. However,those laws are only as strong as the local authority enforcing them.We’re practically flatlining here in Kirklees as far as protecting public access rights to any consistent or reliable degree.
The law for cropping as laid out in section 134 could hardly be clearer to understand or enforce. Why is it so hard for Kirklees Council to apply?
In answer to a public question to Kirklees Cabinet on 2nd June Councillor Robert Walker revealed that Kirklees has successfully removed 104 obstructions from a reported 114 during the 2017/18 period. That is an astonishing success rate of over 91%. All the more surprising because Councillor Walker also said that Kirklees has no procedure or timescale for removing obstructions. This procedure is currently under development but to be honest with a success rate of 91% I don’t think they need one! This incredible performance has been achieved, as Councillor Walker points out, whilst being under staffed over a number of years due to government cuts. Arguably no extra staff or money are required as this level of performance must rate as one of the UK’s highest. Or perhaps it just isn’t true?
Back in the real world and having walked every single path in the Holme Valley I can be absolutely certain that there are at least 40 path obstructions in the area reported to Kirklees and not removed. Of course Kirklees have some 4,000 plus outstanding issues on the rights of way network ,mostly obstructions by nature, which Councillor Walker didn’t mention. So what’s really going on? And why have those Holme Valley obstructions not been included in the council’s figures? Obviously I think we should be told!
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.
One thing you can say with confidence about local highway authorities in West Yorkshire is that the standard of path obstruction is regular,long standing and of a very high quality. I’m not saying this is necessarily a good thing but at least there are few surprises.
Here’s a selection from the smorgasbord of problems on a 4 mile walk in Calderdale.
In the topsy turvy upside down world of Kirklees Public Rights of Way, the Council, who have a legal duty to stop public paths being obstructed and to assert the public’s right to use rights of way, are going to great lengths (and expense?Ed) to ensure a water trough can stay on a public footpath rather than just ..well…move it.
It would appear that moving it to keep the path clear and avoid potential damage by animals visiting the trough is far to simple a solution for our hapless highway authority. Instead they will “monitor the situation and reserve the councils position regarding trough siting and operation” (we’re not making this up! Ed)
The matter has been dealt with by Karl Battersby, Strategic Director of Economy & Infrastructure. Mr Battersby recently wrote to a local ward Councillor regarding the trough and advised that the “water trough placed on the route is not authorised but again we will not take action”. (Has austerity cut so deep at Kirklees Council that the only person left to deal with such a minor public rights of way issue is a Strategic Director? .Ed)
Is Mr Battersby condoning the obstruction of a public footpath here? The councils footpaths officer has advised Mr Battersby that the trough “may be an obstruction” and that “siting of troughs on/near public rights of way is not encouraged and its placement and use may cause problems”. How is the the public interest and the councils statutory duties to keep paths open and to assert public rights being met in this case? How are the councils wider obligations as a service provider under the Disability Discrimination Act being met by allowing an “unauthorised” structure to sit on a 1.2 metre wide footpath? Did Mr Battersby take any of these points into consideration when making his decision?
Permitting paths to be obstructed or partially obstructed in this manner does not seem to fit with the councils recently stated aim contained in it’s Climate Emergency Plan that “The Council will continue to develop and promote sustainable and active travel and ensure that Kirklees is recognised as a great place to walk and cycle, inspiring more people to walk and cycle more often as a mode of transport, for work, leisure or for sport”. The Council also have a target of increasing walking by 20% in the plan. Will putting water troughs on footpaths help achieve this? Or will it make paths unattractive and difficult to use? Or impossible to use should you have a disability?
Sadly there is no detail in Mr Battersby’s correspondence regarding how the unauthorised trough will be monitored. Will it be visited daily,weekly or monthly by Mr Battersby? Perhaps the Prow satellite can be redirected to orbit the trough on a regular basis to see what it’s up to? Will ramblers be encouraged to befriend the trough when they can’t get down the path because of it?
This really is an excellent route consisting of 22 and a bit miles around the edge of the valley taking in moorland,woods, rolling fields,cloughs and Castle Hill. A walk to really get the feel of this place.
It is something of an under used asset and could be so much more. It doesn’t seem to be waymarked as one long walk and although there aren’t any obstructions there are the usual unauthorised and dodgy stiles, barbed wire and a complete lack of coherent signing/waymarking.
The amount of stuff you have to climb over in a 22 mile walk gets a bit waring. Most of it is unauthorised and out of repair. If these stiles and Heath Robinson structures were removed and a quality waymarking scheme put in place a walk like this could really attract stay over visitors to the valley. It would be quite possible to link into the route from Holmfirth or Honley and make a weekend of it.
As it is the Holme Valley Circular Walk is perhaps a little too challenging for the wrong kind of reasons at present.
In a race against time I thought I could squeeze one more evening walk in on Footpath 135 before it clocked off beneath plough and crops for another 10 months. See here and here .Alas it was not to be. The path was being ploughed out as I battled my way across. This is legitimate but the farmer is legally obliged to reinstate the line of the path on the ground so that it is convenient to use and apparent within 14 days. So by about the end of September. It never happens and our local council who have responsibility to ensure it does happen know all about it and usually do nowt.
Public footpaths aren’t really intended to be part time but from now until late July 2020 Holmfirth Footpath 135 is working from home or on extended sick leave. An out of office message would be useful on these sort of paths.
The longstanding dry stone wall obstruction on Holmfirth Footpath 135 has been removed. This path has been blocked for donkeys years and it is very pleasing to see it open. Just needs a sign on on Intake Lane.