There are the sum total of 8 bridleways in the Parish of Holmfirth out of a total of around 200 public rights of way. In Kirklees only 8% of the 700 odd miles of public rights of way are bridleways. They are a rare and increasingly endangered thing. This is such a shame because their multi use status for walkers,riders and cyclists gives them added value to a wider range of users.
Unfortunately 4 out of the 8 Holmfirth bridleways have featured on this blog which as you know is the A&E of rights of way and for some paths being featured here is akin to having the last rites read to you a few puffs before you’re final breath.
Holmfirth Bridleways 68 & 189 are about to celebrate the first anniversary of a botched attempt to turn them into a road by Yorkshire Water. This time last year a limestone surface was laid over the existing sandstone which led to numerous complaints from users. Kirklees failed miserably to cure the problem by allowing Yorkshire Water to bury the limestone under a second concrete like foreign substance. More Harold Shipman than Dr Kildare from our local Highway Authority.
Up on Cheesgate Nab Holmfirth Bridleway 134 is on the slab awaiting some unnecessary plastic surgery to remove it’s natural good looks in favour of a wrinkle free but car friendly finish.
Our most recent addition to the ward is Ox Lee Lane – Holmfirth Bridleway 154 now a Frankenstein creation of rocks & road planings resembling a badly put together jigsaw of left over materials. Our Dr Shipman highway authority is lurking at the end of the ward probably about to administer a final dose of indifference to finish it off.
This case demonstrates the enforcement capabilities of Kirklees Council. It must have been a difficult and complex case to prove before a court and prosecute successfully. The fine and costs come to £50 odd grand according to the paper which sends out an incredibly strong signal to anyone else thinking of operating in this manner. Of course this is what councils should be doing to protect the environment and public from harm and nuisance where they have the duty and powers to do so.
One of the other areas of responsibility Kirklees Council has is the duty to protect over 700 miles of public rights of way in the district. Compared to proving before a court the harm done to residents by noise from a nearby wind turbine I would argue that prosecuting and proving one of the many examples of wilful obstruction to a public right of way is much more straightforward. Clearly Kirklees has the expertise and resources to prosecute such a straightforward matter. A number of successful and well publicised prosecutions for obstructing public rights of way would send out an equally strong message and,I would argue, deter others from obstructing public paths making management and use of the network easier in the long run.
I can’t recall any recent examples of Kirklees prosecuting for wilful obstruction of a public path despite the many examples they have to choose from but perhaps they don’t publicise this aspect of thier work?
Without exception each local authority in West Yorkshire has cut rights of way budgets and staffing levels. Most of these councils did this early on as rights of way are undervalued and seen as an easy target by dim witted councillors and careerist managers.
The excuse that “we’re skint” and therefore off the hook about maintaining rights of way properly is now the default position of the West Yorkshire councils. The second string to this bow is “don’t bother us and fix it yourself” by forming a “friends of everything the council used to do group.”
This position is of course complete twaddle and will inevitably end up costing councils much more in the long run as the rights of way asset deteriorates and inevitably becomes much more expensive to put right.
These same councils continue to work in the archaic fashion of some 1950’s corporation with outdated procedures, management structures and attitudes which waste millions. No one will make a decision about anything let alone take a proactive approach or god forbid do something differently to how it’s been done for the past 60 years.
This revealing article in the Yorkshire Post shows how our glorious leaders really behave and how they spend our money. Whilst they may be no money for public rights of way there is no problem finding £750,000 for “networking events” in the South of France or a £100,000 for “executive coaching”.
But if you want a public footpath strimming, a sign fixing or an obstruction removing so that you and others can enjoy a public amenity you know what the answer is. “Feck off and do it yourself”.
Back in mid November 2017 this double fence and double double stile arrangement was brought to the attention of Kirklees Council for 2 reasons. Firstly the Krypton Factor stile arrangement was out of repair. One of the smaller steps was no longer attached to planet earth. Secondly and more importantly it is clear to even the most casual observer that the two fences and double double stiles have been erected across a gateway. The rather large stone gate posts are a bit of a giveaway. So in fact this double whammy of fences and stiles shouldn’t even be there. It should be a gate!
It was politely mentioned to Kirklees that perhaps it would be better for path users if the stiles were removed in favour of a gate rather than repair them. In early December 2017 I received an update which ignored the gate aspect but advised that the stile had been repaired. Oh well perhaps I need to be more to the point in future?
The header photo shows the reportedly “repaired stile” as observed today. I hope dear reader you appreciate what a difficult job this is? Not only do the Council have some kind of filter on the other end of my emails which blanks out anything they might have to do that’s a bit “tricky” but even when they say they’ve done something they haven’t! Below is a newly added obstruction on the path to add a bit of a spark for walkers in 2018.
The council would have us believe that they are strapped for cash, short staffed and rights of way are a low priority but I rather think they are beset by a plague of cock ups,indifference and ineptitude. Is there another plausible explanation? What would Michael “public access is a public good” Gove think about it all?
Good news on this one. The Huddersfield Planning Sub Committee voted in favour of adding this well used public right of way to the Definitive Map at today’s meeting. There has been a huge amount of support from local residents who use the path and contributed valuable evidence and much hard work from the Kirklees Bridleways Group.
A good start to 2018 and more to positive news to come on another blocked bridleway in the coming weeks.
The application to add a bridleway from Bridge Lane to Sands, Holmfirth goes to Committee on 4th January 2018. Members of the public wishing to speak at the meeting need to contact Richard Dunne 01484 221000 by 5pm on 3rd January (phone) or midnight on the same date by email Richard.Dunne@Kirklees.gov.uk
This planning application continues the steady flow of applications drawn up by professional firms which conveniently don’t mention public rights of way directly affected by the proposed development. In this case Holmfirth Footpath 135 at Near Mount Farm. The blog will continue to highlight this problem in the hope that doing so may encourage better practice from these companies. Public rights of way are a material consideration in the planning process and it is difficult to see how they can be properly considered when they are not even mentioned.
I believe the Council should simply send the forms back with a covering letter to say the application is invalid in these circumstances. They could then charge the applicants for a second and hopefully correct application. Another little money saving tip for the bankrupt bureaucrats.
Rather tellingly the only consultee responses published are from Kirklees Prow and Highways who point out that the legal line of the path through the site is actually currently obstructed. Surprise! Surprise! as Cilla used to say 🙂 Who’d have thought it?
Some small successes to report as a result of walking and blogging. A brand new sign has been put up on Holmfirth Footpath 116 at Shalley Farm! This has been missing for a long time and many of it’s predecessors have gone the same way. Where the signs go or what happens to them is a complete mystery. One day they are there and then like Lord Lucan or Shergar they are gone….. Lets see how long this one lasts.
Other signs have been put up on Holmfirth 122 at Scholes and the stiles on Holmfirth Footpath 131 have been repaired by the owner.
The sign on Holmfirth 167 (above) has been put back to the top of the pole and the cheeky cctv sign removed.
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?