RIGHTS OF WAY WATCH
Pull Your Socks Up. Get Real. Get a move on.
Ex-BHS Trustee, local Councillor, District Access Bridleways Officer and horse rider since the age of three, Maureen Comber, attacks local authorities for neglecting their statutory duty on Rights of Way
She has just written to Defra Minister, Richard Benyon, giving him the benefit of her 40-years experience fighting for riders rights.
"I am pleased to see that you support the horse industry and recognize that the rights of way network does not serve horse riders particularly well," she says. "However I am disappointed that you do not seem to realize the endeavours that horse riders make to secure improvements in this direction."
She then goes on to list exactly how long it takes local authorities to act.
"To upgrade an existing footpath to bridleway so that riders might gain access to other bridleways on Broxhead Common took TWENTY YEARS. The principle reason for this, was the length of time the Local Highway Authority took to research the matter. They have a statutory duty to research a claim within one year, but Government Offices are very lenient with local authorities when one complains, so it is more likely to be anything from six to ten or more years. This ended in a three day Public Inquiry after which the LHA were instructed to make a Creation Order along the claimed route."
"A claim in 1999 for bridleways on Broxhead Common was dismissed because the Planning Inspector, after written representation said that horse riders already had a right to ride there. I then asked HCC for the paths to be cleared but again no action has been taken. Totalling eleven years so far, the claim has been resubmitted with new evidence."
"In 1999 I deposited a claim for a 'Lost Way' in Binsted. After a Public Hearing it was put on the Definitive Map in 2007. The HCC then said they did not have the money to fund the three culverts and a bridleway gate required to make it useable. It is still not open but hopefully East Hampshire District Council will agree to find the funds for the work in the near future. Eleven years and running."
"To gain access along a footpath which was also our private right of way when the adjoining landowner gated and locked it, took TEN YEARS. The LHA should of course have insisted that the gate was removed as an obstruction to the footpath. This cost that landowner £60,000 after costs were awarded to me in the County Court."
"My claim for a bridleway deposited with the HCC in 2000, was along the edge of Broxhead Common and manorial waste beside the road. Dismissed at the Regulatory Committee of Hants CC, I appealed to the SOS. Government Office for the North East who deal with these things commissioned a Planning Inspector to look at the case with written representations. The result was successful and the Inspectorate instructed HCC to make the Order. This they did but then promptly objected to it themselves which triggered a Public Inquiry. This took place last Autumn over four days. The Inspector dismissed the Claim. Unable to live with the decision I took Counsel's opinion and Judicially Reviewed the decision. It was immediately quashed. It is now up to the Court to decide how to proceed but it could be yet another Public Inquiry making the third review. Ten years and still running."
Maureen then went on to list other cases which are still pending.
"I am still waiting for illegal gates to be removed on bridleways on Broxhead Common. Again the LHA or the Rights of Way Dept of Hampshire County Council prefer to turn a blind eye."
"Recently a local landowner wished to divert a footpath. In so doing he agreed to upgrade it to a bridleway. This would be a great asset because it would then join a BOAT and a bridleway, but Hampshire County Council have said they require £30,000 for "works" to make it suitable. This is a grass headland path in the countryside which admittedly will need a couple of culverts and some draining. However the demand for that amount of money is proving to be a substantial obstacle to the upgrade, especially when the Aggregates Levy Fund seems to have disappeared even though the sand companies are still paying for it."
"There is a BOAT adjacent to where I live called Cradle Lane. In 2005 with letters of support from the adjoining parish councils I asked the LHA to repair it as it was being badly damaged by 4x4's. I even offered to try and find funding to help. My offer was never taken up and the path was closed eighteen months ago with a promise it would be repaired in 2009/10. It remains closed and unusable as I write."
Even when Council's are found guilty of mis-management nothing seems to happen.
Maureen reminds the Minister that Hampshire County Council were found guilty of maladministration and under funding their Rights of Way Department in 2000 by the Local Government Ombudsman.
But, she says, "Despite their propaganda nothing much has changed. They prefer to prioritize their non statutory services at the expense of their Statutory Duties."
Finally, she tells the Minister, "I have tried to demonstrate to you that Equestrians themselves do take the initiative in looking for opportunities to increase off-road access and take the pressure off the countryside by seeking lower speed limits on rural roads. However unless the responsible local authorities acquire a more positive attitude to their Statutory Duties in this respect, it won't matter how many volunteers the BHS have as they will just meet a brick wall of negativity such as I have over the years."
"I do hope that you can reassure me that our new Coalition Government will enable us to help ourselves to better effect."
Hear. Hear. Well said
If you have examples of local authorities shirking their responsibilities when it comes to doing what they are legally supposed to do, please e-mail us.
Don’t forget, the more we help each other, the more chance there is that we will get something done.