Clayton Fields – Peak Parody?

Kirklees Cabinet Meeting. “It’s not working guys. A 6 % Council Tax rise isn’t even going to cover the cock up to cash ratio on public rights of way.

Despite the dire childhood predictions of “peak oil” and a subsequent dark Mad Max world due to start on or around the 1st January 1984 it never quite happened did it? We may however have reached Peak Parody with Public Rights of Way in Kirklees and are about to cross a humor free frontier into a new world where the jokes won’t work anymore.

The reason? The claimed public footpaths at Clayton Fields,Huddersfield and the perfect storm of comedy cock ups from our hapless council.

Back in the last century, 1996 to be precise, a couple of applications were submitted to Kirklees claiming a number of very well established paths across Clayton Fields. Shortly thereafter the Clayton Fields site was registered as a Town & Village Green by the council and the claimed path applications parked up at Her Majesty’s Pleasure on the Kirklees “Priority DMMO List” where they remain incarcerated to this day.

Sadly members of the public trusted the council and happily thought they ,their children and grandchildren would be able to enjoy public access over Clayton Fields in perpetuity. It was not to be. The land is ripe for development and the designation of Town & Village Green was challenged all the way to the Supreme Court where it was found wanting on a few technical cock ups.

Not to worry though as the public had lodged claims for public footpaths with the council and these would surely be dealt with in the legally prescribed manner? Er…well…no actually. The council “took a view” to leave these applications on it’s priority list for some 22 years without properly investigating or progressing them in that time. If only it had done the job properly back then the costs being incurred by the hard pressed austerity taxpayers of 2018 would not exist. Certainly a 6% council tax rise cannot keep pace with the council’s cock up to cash ratio at current levels.

Fast forward to the planning sub committee of November 2017 and you’ll see that the developer at Clayton Fields secured an order under s257 of the Town & Country Planning Act to extinguish the claimed public rights of way at Clayton Fields. Yes that’s those very same paths which have been sat on the councils DMMO Priority List for 22 years.

But that’s not the end of the story. The campaigners at Clayton Fields are an inspiration to us all in their efforts to save a public amenity  from the clutches of private profit and council cock ups. A further application claiming public paths was submitted in 2014 and as ever ignored by the council in it’s usual way.

However the campaigners have sought help from the Secretary of State who has directed Kirklees to come to a decision. That application was heard at the February 22 2018 planning sub committee with a recommendation to make an order adding the 2014 claimed paths to the Definitive Map and also to go back to the 22 year old claims and consider them properly too!

Now I only got into XBBS (Extremely Boring Bureaucracy Sports) recently after becoming disillusioned with the ever decreasing challenge of watching paint dry and listening to grass grow so I’m at the edge of my endurance here but this is what I think it means !

The Council now have authority to close all the 1996 claimed public footpaths at Clayton Fields. The Council also have authority to add the 2014 claimed paths to the public record and the Council are going to have to go back to the 1996 claims to look at them properly whilst at the same time holding a valid committee decision to close them – see first sentence. So there are several parallel universes colliding here and we could really do with Dr Who and his sonic screwdriver to sort out all the crossed wires.

And why does any of this matter? Well Isn’t it odd that when members of the public seek to protect public paths for public use their legitimate claims are left on a shelf somewhere in Civic 3 for 22 years. When a developer comes along and wishes to close those same paths the cunning plan makes it to committee with the utmost expediency where an agreeable decision is made and everyone’s home in time for tea. It neatly demonstrates the disdain and contempt of Kirklees Council towards its very own population.

Another thing in these cash strapped times is how much is this costing? Tens of thousands would seem a reasonable ballpark given the amount of expertise, officer time,legal advice, court appearances, reports, numerous site visits with committee members and the public and of course  potential public inquiries in the future etc etc. It does rather go to prove that somewhere in Civic 3 there is a magic money tree. Maybe it’s under The Chief Exec’s Leaves