The West Riding Memo.

A Holmfirth Footpath with a recorded width of 1.2 metres ! But where is the 1.2 metre path?

One of the many oddities of rights of way in the Kirklees district is that almost every single footpath is recorded as 1.2 metres wide in the statement accompanying the definitive map. The path above is a classic example of the mismatch between what often exists on the ground, and may have done for hundreds of years, and what Kirklees accept responsibility for. The normal highways convention would be that the public highway is the full extent of the width between walls but Kirklees record this path as only 1.2 metres wide.

The answer to this anomaly can be explained,in part, by the 1954 “West Riding Memo”. This records a historical sleight of hand by the original surveying authority, the West Riding County Council.

As part of its obligations under the National Parks & Access to the Countryside Act 1949 West Riding County Council had a duty to survey it’s area and record all public rights of way. These were then recorded on provisional, draft and finally a Definitive Map & Statement. The process was undertaken in the early 1950’s. Being a survey it should have recorded information found on the ground without any interpretation or subjective opinion. So the survey should establish if a way was a footpath or bridleway, the surface type and condition, the presence of gates,stiles and signs and the width of the path. Such information would be both evident on the ground and available from the evidence of path users.

The “West Riding Memo” shows a degree of subjective interference in the legal process which has no basis in the 1949 Act and has led to the significant under recording of path widths and subsequent loss of access to the public.

The memo was written by the County Engineer & Surveyor in December 1954. It instructs recipients involved in the surveying of public rights of way under the 1949 Act to deliberately change factual evidence in order to limit the County Council’s future maintenance liability. The County Engineer & Surveyor instructs that “all footpaths having a greater width than 6 feet should be changed to 4 feet” and “likewise all bridleways which are a greater width than 10 feet be reduced to 8 feet”. These “alterations” to the facts were to be done at the Draft Map stage.

The County Engineer & Surveyor justifies this change to the facts by stating that it was “to define the liability of the highway authority within the limits of ways which in some cases are 20, 30 and sometimes more feet between fences” It is doubtful that the County Engineer & Surveyor had any legal authority to change factual elements recorded in the survey of rights of way under the 1949 Act but he did it anyway!

One of the more glaring flaws in this approach is that the Highway Authorities 4 feet or 8 feet liability within the greater width was not defined (It couldn’t be could it?). Nearly 70 years on this causes Kirklees serious problems. The public often lose out  when a dispute arises over a path width or location as the council has an under recorded width and cannot say exactly where it is! A good example of this is Holmfirth Footpath 60 where the 14 feet on the ground walked for hundreds of years has now been narrowed to the 4 feet recorded in the Definitive Statement.

A copy of the memo can be viewed here West Riding Memo  Apologies for the quality but it was supplied by Kirklees. 

Holmfirth Footpath 60. A 14 foot wide right of way but only recorded as 4 feet on the Kirklees Definitive Map & Statement. 70 years on from the “West Riding Memo” this is what can happen.