Maureen Comber writes to her local newspaper, The Borden Herald
"Why are officers of Hampshire County Council being relied on to make decisions which actually our elected representatives should be taking on our behalf and in our interest, as they were elected to do?"
Says Maureen Comber
I am the County Access Bridleways Officer for Hampshire. It is a voluntary post for The British Horse Society.
Over a period of time I have received several letters from Hampshire County Council threatening to implement their ‘unreasonable complainant behaviour’ policy if I contacted them again. I might have found it laughable if it were not at the same time so lamentable to discover that their Head of Countryside had contacted the relatively new BHS Development Officer for the area, to say “that many of her team had little first hand experience of horses and their specific needs - this is both planning and repairing teams.” If she had hoped to silence me and then plead ignorance she had effectively shot herself in the foot because it came back to me in the end.
However it caused me and my colleagues, who have had similar correspondence, to wonder why she had not taken these shortcomings to the Hampshire Local Access Forum, which is the statutory advisory body on countryside issues and has a very effective equine representative? It also made me wonder why Hampshire County Council would appoint as Head of Countryside someone with so little knowledge of a subject so fundamental to it.
I was then reminded by a colleague of the list of relatively simple requests from the public regarding difficult gates, blocked paths etc. and how these statutory duties never seemed to be addressed.
He reminded me also of the millions of pounds of public money that had been wasted by HCC in fighting legal cases that the officers had promoted and eventually lost, but which could have been resolved by other means. This included the link for the South Downs Way where the proposal was to compulsorily purchase land from a local watercress farmer; after lengthy and costly court proceedings when HCC had lost, one of our local representatives suggested an alternative which he was good enough to implement and is proving very successful I am told.
Another case was that of Winchester College and Humphrey Feeds v HCC in which GLPG – a group set up for the purpose of protecting ‘green lanes’ and preventing them from being wrongly classified as BOATS, took action. The Court judgement was that Hampshire had wrongly determined this double application as BOAT.
Then there was my own recent case, where the Secretary of State on Appeal had instructed HCC to make an Order for a bridleway. This they did but then immediately objected to it – a decision made by the officers without returning the matter to their Regulatory Committee! Two further Public Inquiries followed, with HCC continuing to object on no other grounds that they disagreed with the original Inspector’s decision, which of course had been in the public interest.
The cost of just these three cases that I am reminded of, came to millions of pounds of taxpayers money?
So where I ask is democracy? Why are officers of Hampshire County Council being relied on to make decisions which actually our elected representatives should be taking on our behalf and in our interest, as they were elected to do?
The Coalition policy is to return the power to the people with Localism and the Big Society but I do not see any of this in Hampshire. I wonder why?