The public inquiry into diversion of Holmfirth Footpath 60 at Wolfstones reopens on 28th January 2022. At some point thereafter a decision will be made by the Inspector. Hopefully the order will not be confirmed and direct access to Wolfstone Heights will be maintained for the public benefit.
The final day of the inquiry is to hear closing submissions. The councils advocate’s statement can be read here . It’s a balanced and accurate case which reflects what was said at the inquiry.
The public Inquiry into the proposed stopping up and diversion of Holmfirth 60 takes place on 23rd of August. The Department of Transport publish documents relating to the inquiry here and it is regularly updated.
This process is funded by the taxpayer. So if you want to see what your money is spent on, are interested in the path or just can’t sleep, it’s worth a read.
Kirklees Council have made an order to modify the Definitive Map & Statement in respect of Holmfirth Footpath 60. The order if, confirmed, would increase the width of the path to between 3 and 4 metres along the enclosed section of path off Wolfstones Road. This would reflect historical and contemporary use of the path by public users.
The order and associated documents can be viewed here
At the Huddersfield Planning Sub Committee on 21 April 2021 councillors voted in favour of making a modification order to the Definitive Map & Statement. The effect of the order, if confirmed, will change the width of Footpath 60 from 1.2m to between 3m and 4m.
The application came about as a result of Footpath 60 being significantly narrowed from the historical (but unrecorded) used width of 3m to 4m down to the 1.2m recorded in the current Statement. The image above illustrates the situation.
The officer report contains a useful summary and explanation of the evidence. In short there is much contemporary user evidence for the greater width which is supported by historical documents from the Inclosure Awards of 1829, successive Ordnance Survey editions, aerial photographs and today’s Google maps. The decision can be viewed here
This case is also the first public appearance of the West Riding Memo which was used to demonstrate the deliberate under recording of path widths by the local authority 70 years ago.
As so often happens with Kirklees a cock up was waiting around the corner to make things a little more interesting. As one of the links to the live streamed committee meeting didn’t work the matter will return to a future committee for reaffirmation.
The vote is in line with the council’s previous decision refusing the S257 application in January 2020. Last week Holme Valley parish Council also voted to object to the current diversion order.
The Secretary of State will either have to decide the matter at a public inquiry or use his discretion and abandon the process. Given the level, consistency and quality of objections the latter would seem a more appropriate course of action and would have the added benefit of protecting valuable public funds.
Meanwhile on the ground a new fence has sprung up. Members of the public who pay taxes to fund department of transport diversion orders and public inquiries are now confined to a 1.2 metre width (all the definitive map & statement currently record). What a wonderful irony that in the midst of a global pandemic a public way which has been physically about 4 meters wide since the 1826 Netherthong Enclosure Awards is now reduced to a fraction of its former self in 2020 when we need it most. The commoners of 1826 were in a much better position to socially distance than the long suffering ramblers of 2020 as far as Holmfirth Footpath 60 is concerned.
The committee papers for Holmfirth 60 are now available here . Sadly the officer recommendation to the planning committee is that a diversion order should be made. As committee members usually vote in line with officers advice this is both a worrying and baffling recommendation. It represents a new nadir for rights of way management in Kirklees and a shining example of the value placed on our wonderful paths (not much?Ed) by our council.
Local walking and running groups and many individuals from the community oppose the diversion of Footpath 60. These are the same groups and individuals who contribute much to keeping the rights of way network and much other local green infrastructure open and serviceable because the council cannot or will not do so.
It is clear that Kirklees has reservations about the diversion of Footpath 60. Although the recommendation is to make an order to divert the path, at the same time the recommendation states that if objections to the order are made (which they will be) the council will not actively seek confirmation of the diversion order.
In effect this recommendation (if approved) passes the decision to a future public inquiry where Kirklees will sit on the sidelines and saving the path will be left to volunteers. Public Inquiries are expensive and funded entirely by the public. So not only are the public at risk of losing a long established and much valued footpath, they will also pay handsomely for the privilege. Kirklees has badly lost its way here.
Kirklees officers have more than enough information to recommend to committee that an order should not be made. The original mistake in not identifying Footpath 60 as a direct off road link to Wolfstones , an area of public resort, was made by Kirklees officers and has never been acknowledged or addressed. That information in itself is significant enough to recommend an order is not made yet it has been gaslighted out of existence.
As guardian of our public rights of way network Kirklees is not fit for purpose by any measure. Will Holmfirth Footpath 60 become the latest victim next Thursday?
The application to divert this popular path which gives direct access to public land at Wolfstones will be heard at the Huddersfield Planning Sub Committee next week. Details of the meeting are here .
It is highly unlikely that any of the councillors on the committee have heard of this path ,let alone use it. Most of them probably won’t read the papers that accompany the committee report and none have any training in public rights of way matters. However it is their decision whether to authorise a legal order to divert this path away from it’s destination and onto a road. If you use and value the path and have the time please consider attending the meeting to put your view to the committee members. It is at 13:00 hrs at the Town Hall in Huddersfield on January 30th.
Some points to consider
There is no obligation at all for the committee to give authority for the making of a diversion order. Just because the application is related to a planning permission it does not follow that an order has to be made.
The planning permission is for a car parking area and a link between 2 buildings. There is no planning gain for the public here ie houses to live in, improved highway network etc. However there is a the significant loss of a very popular long standing public path. The loss of the public amenity and enjoyment is very significant and and is not outweighed by any public benefit from the development.
As previously reported here Kirklees planners and Rights of Way accepted this application without the full knowledge that the path is the only direct (off road) public access to the area of public land at Wolfstones. This was a serious error.
The proposed new path is substantially less convenient for walkers heading to Wolfstones. It turns at 90 degrees off the current direct route and ends up on a road some distance away. Walkers then have to back track to reach the access to Wolfstones. Currently the path goes straight there. Most of us walk to get away from cars and roads and to enjoy the quiet countryside.
Kirklees have recently declared a climate emergency and developed an action plan. The plan aims to increase walking in the district by 20% it also states “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”. This proposal makes a popular circular route harder and less attractive to the public and will lead to less public use.This conflicts with the councils stated aims outlined in the climate emergency plan.
The proposal is also at odds with the Councils Rights of Way Improvement Plan which aims to boost green tourism, short circular walks,local culture and heritage and access for those with disabilities. Effectively diverting a public path onto a road goes against these aims.
Should the committee be minded to grant authority for a diversion order they should instruct officers to abandon the current “neutral” stance which they are taking and take a stance against the order in the future and at any subsequent public inquiry.
In an unwelcome sequel the proposal to divert Holmfirth Public Footpath 60 Wolfstones has been resurrected and is now out for public consultation. The diversion is connected to planning applications here and here. The application is made under the Town & Country Planning Act and does meet the criteria as being necessary for the development to go ahead. However there is no obligation for Kirklees to make such an order and given the level and quality of public objection during the first (withdrawn) consultation in 2018 they should not be entertaining a second bite at the cherry.
For anyone walking from Holmfirth, Netherthong or the valley and heading for Wolfstone Heights the proposed diversion takes you away from your destination just as you are almost there. It would be a much less commodious path compared to the current long established direct route of Footpath 60.
Kirklees Council were unaware of the public status of the land at Wolfstone Heights trig point (which Footpath 60 links to directly) when the original application was accepted. For clarity the land belongs to Holme Valley Land Charity whose sole trustee is Holme Valley Parish Council. The purpose of the charity is “To promote such charitable purposes for the benefit of the inhabitants of the Holme Valley”. The land at Wolfstones (WYK821600) has been retained by the charity for the benefit of the community for informal recreation. The details can be viewed here .(There is a claim made in the diversion application that access to the charity owned land can be closed at anytime.This does not appear to be the case). Arguably Kirklees would not have accepted the original application had they known this as the proposal makes access to Wolfstone Heights more difficult. Public rights of way are a material consideration in the planning process but this obligation has not been discharged correctly in this case.
In response to consultations on the original planning applications which included moving the path Kirklees Prow unit responded saying –
” moving the terminus of path 60 to the north will take it away from the existing access to Wolfstones Height, by over 100 metres, however that access is not currently recognised as public and this rural road has a serviceable verge for walking”
The premise that the access to Wolfstones Height is not public is incorrect. Wolfstones Heights is a place of public resort being reserved for public enjoyment by Holme Valley Land Charity. It is quite obviously very well used and known locally. Importantly Holmfirth Footpath 60 is the only public footpath (and off road route) which links directly to the Wolfstone Heights access. Unfortunately the whole diversion process has stemmed from this initial oversight in 2014.
Kirklees Council should have established the correct status of the access and land at Wolfstone Heights prior to accepting any diversion proposal to move the terminus of Footpath 60.
As previously mentioned there is no obligation on Kirklees Council to make an order to divert Footpath 60. Their initial decision to accept such an application was flawed because it was based on incomplete and incorrect information regarding the link between Footpath 60 and direct access to Wolfstone Heights. The Council now have good reason not to make an order in light of this information but sadly they are taking a “neutral” position and sitting on the fence.
The consultation is open until 9th July 2019 and you can see the proposal and comment here