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.
There is currently a proposal to divert Holmfirth Public Footpath 60 at Wolfstone Heights Farm in connection with a planning permission granted in 2014. The case neatly highlights the endemic failings of Kirklees Planning not properly considering public rights of way.
The issue of Holmfirth Footpath 60 ought to have been looked at much more closely by planners. The path was flagged up in the planning application itself by the applicant who’s proposals clearly required and asked for diversion of Footpath 60. This seems to have been given the nod through despite Kirklees planners being blissfully unaware that Footpath 60 gives direct and traffic free access to the open access land at Wolfstone Height.
If the proposal succeeds 80 metres of lovely open and direct rural footpath will be turned into an enclosed,hard surfaced 130 metre footpath going in the wrong direction and dumping you on a road without a footway some 140 metres from where you were going.
There are 38 planning conditions in the decision notice granting planning permission for housing at Washpit Mills which was granted on 15th June 2018. Unfortunately none of them require the developer to improve the only traffic free pedestrian link from the site onto Dunford Road (and a bus stop). That link is Holmfirth Footpath 195.
An underwhelming performance not just from planners but local councillors and the parish council who should have surely secured improvements here at no cost to the taxpayer. The idea was in the original proposals but disappeared without explanation in the second application.
So although Kirklees are stuck on the “we’re skint” mantra even when there’s a freebie up for grabs they are clearly incapable of securing it. There are already reports locally of increased and speeding traffic heading to the mill site and it would seem the public must run that one sided gauntlet or the morass of Footpath 195 – although to be fair we are currently in the paths brief midsummer dry period. Oh wait a minute, it’s raining.
Planning permission for the development at Upper Millshaw was granted on 3rd May 2018. Today, 17 May, the public footpath through the site looked like this!
You’ve got to laugh at the officers report dated 3 May 2018 which, after considering rights of way at the site, rather naively concludes –
“The proposal is therefore considered to have an acceptable impact on highway and pedestrian safety and would accord with Policies R13, T10 and T19 of the UDP and Policies in the draft Local Plan.”
I’m not quite sure just how safe for pedestrians the deep and unguarded excavations which are close to or even on Footpath 146 really are (See below) but it’s nice to know it all accords with the local plan.
Kirklees have been aware of issues affecting Holmfirth Footpath 146 going back some 7 months. See here and here but have taken the usual laid back attitude to enforcement. A contributor to the blog helpfully reported the beginning of tipping on 30th April and rather forlornly suggested “prompt action” might avert a bigger problem.
At the point that Kirklees were made aware of the problem the site and footpath looked like this.
Clearly an intervention at this point could have stopped the further and more damaging works done to Holmfirth Footpath 146 but given the councils track record on these issues it was never going to happen.
Council Tax Farming has caught the eye of the UK’s favourite rural TV programme Countryfile and Matt Baker has been spotted on several building sites,sorry fields, in the Holme Valley filming a piece on this exciting new agricultural development.
Matt was also granted a rare interview with lord of the manor The Duke of Heckmondwike Councillor David She’ard, one of the leading lights in the Council Tax Farms movement.
The interview got off to a shaky start with the curmudgeonly Duke saying to Matt “You’re not John Craven! Where’s John? I’ve some photos for him for the calendar!” However despite the Duke’s misgivings and his difficulty with the geordie language he generously shared his philosophy on his expanding Council Tax Farm Empire.
“I build,sorry grow, them all on greenfields in the hills over there near someplace called Holmfirth. The land there is very fertile and once my noble men of the order of the Huddersfield Planning Sub Committee have sown the seeds the luxury 3 and 4 bedroom houses,sorry crops, spring up within a few weeks. My critics are wrong to say they are housing estates.This is agriculture and there will be many pot plants and herbaceous borders between the estate roads and Range Rovers”
“The land is enclosed in a beautiful mosaic of Heras fencing which becomes a landscape feature itself as it is often left leaning and abandoned all over the countryside.”
Matt asked how the innovative approach to Council Tax Farms came about. “Well I’m skint” said the Duke. I can’t squeeze enough cash from my existing serfs so I need to produce a quick growing cash crop like luxury houses to harvest the annual council tax”. My right hand man Councillor Baldrick Pandor, Marquis of Batley, helped me with this cunning plan.We’ve named it Ye Olde Big Build rather than the Local Plan to make it sound fun, friendly and positive even though all we’re really doing is handing over prime greenfield sites to developers to make a quick killing.You won’t put that bit on the telly will you?”
Matt probed the Duke further and seemed to hit something of a nerve when he mentioned the loss of valuable countryside, affordability of the homes for young people, social housing and the complete lack of new infrastructure. “Look your not John Craven” said the Duke. “I only agreed to this interview so I could give John a photo for next years calendar. Could you pass this on as Kirklees entry for 2019? I don’t mind what month we are”
So goes one of the most well used and routinely ignored planning footnotes in Kirklees. Both images here show public rights of way across small sites where the developer has been clearly advised by Kirklees of the existence of public footpaths. That advice is not to obstruct or interfere with the public paths during or after development.
The Washpit Mills planning proposal for 50 plus houses and a gym in this peaceful Holme Valley backwater was predictably waved through by councillors on the Huddersfield Planning sub committee of 8th March. The Labour chair of the committee did the deed with his casting vote condoning continued obstruction of a long established public right of way through the site along with a requirement for locals to hang onto their wellies for the foreseeable future if they wish to paddle along Footpath 195.
In stark contrast to the cynicism displayed by labour councillors, yet again dumping on the Holme Valley, local residents who spoke to the committee were eloquent in their arguments against the proposals. Their considered words were of course completely ignored by our democratic representatives who only obey the Red Lord from Heckmondwike,Darth Sheard. He wishes to build, build, build -not affordable houses that are needed by local people but, in effect, a “council tax farm” to keep his empire afloat.
Local tory councillor Nigel Patrick had something of a “fight them on the beaches/Winston Churchill” moment calling out his own Highways officers who he suggested (with some justification) of “not looking at the same roads as me.”Describing how he worked closely with planners and highways officers Cllr Patrick described the report as “a slap in the face” and said he felt “let down”. Clearly the implication was that in all his meetings with planners and highways officers they’d not bothered to mention they were going to do the dirty on him when it came to committee.
He had a very telling point regarding a proposed footway which will have a dropped kerb to allow vehicles and HGV’s in particular to …er…. drive over it! “It’s total and utter nonsense,it’s pure fantasy a fairytale ” he continued. And he is right.
The problem with such committees in Kirklees is that they vote on party political lines and if Jones Homes or Wimpey came in and wanted the first born of every family in a tory ward before building so much as a garden shed our gormless labour councillors would oblige.
This approach is leading to the disregard and ruin of a significant proportion of the local rights of way network and countryside.If a local councillor of whatever persuasion can say in public that “I’m embarrassed to be associated with this council” then there really is something seriously wrong.
On a lighter note veteran Cllr Ken Simms described the sharp suited developers as “thinking we’re all daft and wear flat caps and clogs” He forgot the whippets and mine is rather offended.
Whilst residents of Kirklees battle with harsh winter weather,cuts in services,blocked public footpaths and a 6% rise in council tax the council’s comedy deputy leader has been spotted at a developers jamboree in Cannes. The stunning French resort certainly looks a better bet than Huddersfield in March so maybe Cllr Pandor is not as daft as he makes out?
Cllr Panodor and his delegation are attending the world’s leading property and investment event according to the local paper in an attempt to attract more developers to Kirklees and build 10,000 homes in the next 10 years. Why the council felt the need to send him to France (unless they wanted a break from him for a bit) is a mystery as there are developers in almost every greenfield in the district at the moment.
It does rather highlight the councils desperation to jump into bed with sharp suited developers whose priorities are perhaps not altogether altruistic. As can be seen from the current planning chaos in Kirklees private developers want greenfield sites to build expensive houses and maximise profits whereas what is actually needed in Kirklees is affordable new builds (average asking price in HD9 is over £350k) and social housing. Not really going to find that in Cannes are we?
I suspect the council prefer the £350k type residents and the council tax they can milk them for but that doesn’t look so good in public for a labour run council.
All this high flying and gadding about is quite a contrast to the daily grind of excuses,evasion and platitudes which emanate from kirklees when residents ask for a footpath to be maintained or an obstruction to be cleared. Suddenly the cupboard is bare.
The lovely Holmfirth Footpath 31 which is so characteristic of an unspoilt public path in the valley has found itself in the last chance saloon as Miller Homes appeal the refusal of this planning application. The informal hearing is to be held on 20th March 2018 at the Town Hall Huddersfield.
Town and Country Planning Act 1990 – Section 78 Appeal by Tim Williams, Miller Homes Limited Site at Land off Woodhead Road, Brockholes, Holmfirth Planning Reference: 2017/93326 Appeal Reference: APP/Z4718/W/17/3191803
The Hearing into this matter has now been arranged and will be held on Tuesday, 20 March 2018 at Huddersfield Town Hall, Corporation Street, Huddersfield, HD1 2TU commencing at 10.00am
It looks like the developers have added an altogether slicker operator to present the second attempt to develop Washpit Mills. Bit of a shame as I rather liked the hapless “I don’t know what you’ve got to do” honesty of the last one !
In the new application for some 51 houses we are spoilt for choice with information running to some 40 plans and 8 supporting documents including a 187 page transport assessment!
Oddly there is only a cryptic mention of the public right of way which runs through the site. This has been used by vehicles,horses,cyclists and walkers for as long as the mill has been there. It was of course blocked off immediately the developer took over the site which is what you’d expect. As the route is not recorded on Kirklees weird and wonderful Definitive Map it is open to abuse on two counts 1) Closure by the landowner (tick) and 2) Any claim made to add the path to the Definitive Map being parked up at Her Majesty’s pleasure on the Councils rather badly named “Priority List” (oh another tick there too).
So the access road within the development will be built over a longstanding public right of way. This is described in the transport assessment as “The new access roads and all communal areas within the site are to remain privately maintained will be covered by an appropriate legal agreement. Current lawful rights of access through the complex are respected and will be retained. ” Not so clear if this means public or private rights of access?
In the old proposal I’m sure there was an undertaking to fund improvement work to Holmfirth Footpath 195 which runs from opposite the site through to Dunford Road and the bus stop but this seems to have been dropped. Whilst the new transport assessment waxes lyrically about “Walking stimulates both personal health and the health of communities and local economies. Government health improvement advice states that just 30 minutes brisk walking 5 times a week can bring about significant reductions in the risk of coronary heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes” and “the site can be accessed via the public rights of way network which provides an alternative part segregated pedestrian route that are available to Holmfirth”
Whilst I wouldn’t want reality to get in the way I think it’s fair to say Holmfirth Footpath 195 is unusable by future residents living the green dream and wishing to head off to work in their office clothes via the path and onwards from the bus stop. It’s a quagmire to be avoided between the end of August and mid July. Neglected by the council and suffering from a year round land drainage problem unless you’ve a good pair of wellies and a change of clothes I’d give it a miss.