Back in the late ’70’s and early ’80’s I began exploring the public path network in the North York Moors national Park. Armed with a tatty 1 inch to the mile OS map,youthful enthusiasm and navigation skills learned from a stint serving Queen & Country in the Army Cadets what could possibly go wrong?
Looking back many of the paths I tried to follow had fallen into disuse,were unsigned, not waymarked and obstructed. It was clear I might have been the only fool along many of them for years. The state of those paths back then is almost identical to a large proportion of the path network in Kirklees in 2019.
However the North York Moors paths have been transformed in the intervening 40 years into an attractive,used and usable network. It’s worthwhile to ponder why this is so.
Clearly the National Park has a much narrow remit than a Metropolitan local authority and access to the countryside is a core part of it’s role. On the down side national parks have never been well funded in the UK and have a fraction of the resources of local councils.
Kirklees and it’s predecessor authorities have gone through billions of pounds in the same time period and have have spent millions on public rights of way. Not so long ago there was a well staffed Countryside Unit, Rights of Way Unit (12 staff!), Cycling Officers etc etc. It can’t be said that Kirklees haven’t put the resources in. So what’s gone wrong?
Politics and culture seem to be responsible. Despite North Yorkshire being run by the Huntin’,Shootin’,Fishin’ brigade politically, their National Parks are managed by professionals who actually believe in what they are doing. Clearly no amount of “Get of my land” type assaults have deterred them and the results are plain to see.
Ironically in the People’s Republic of Kirklees control has mostly rested with the Commissars of Batley, Dewsbury and Huddersfield who have always been ambivalent about public rights of way. This was aptly demonstrated with the onset of austerity when the first budgets to be cut were Countryside Unit and prow maintenance closely followed by other unvalued services such as libraries.
This cultural ambivalence towards the countryside pervades the management structures at Kirklees and undermines frontline staff at every turn. The results of this are plain to see out on the network.
Austerity has been a godsend to the political masters and senior managers at Kirklees. In their unhinged view of the world it lets them off the hook for nearly 70 years of maladministration on public rights of way whilst justifying a future of severe neglect if they are allowed to get away with it. On a more positive note it’s only 72 days to Brexit when presumably all this will be fixed as we’re back in control?