Yateley Common, Hampshire
I’ve been banned from emailing Hampshire Country Council with complaints about bridleways and their poor management of the Yateley Common public consultation.
They are using legislation designed to protect public servants from serious danger and threat of violence, stalking and abuse - not from somebody complaining about their cattle management, failure to maintain public rights of way and criticising their proven- poor project management skills
Says Sarah Palmer
I’ve been banned from emailing Hampshire Country Council with complaints about bridleways and their poor management of the Yateley Common public consultation. They have also accused me of emotionally harassing their staff by means of causing them an excessive workload with my complaints!
Since 2005 I have spent many hours being a happy hacker with my Clydesdale x cob mare. We came across abandoned cars, flytipped rubbish and fallen trees so, for purely selfish reasons, it seemed natural to report these unsightly dangers. I reported them, the council cleared them. For years it was the nearest I got to doing voluntary work for the equine community.
I soon realized how many drivers didn’t understand how to deal with horses on the road, so I wrote a couple of fun letters from Lilly, my mare, to the parish magazine, explaining what she did and didn’t like. I also wrote an article for fellow members of the Basingstoke branch of the Institute of Advanced Motorists, which was equally well received. I was invited to write for the County Council’s road safety magazine but the road safety committee was disbanded before I could.
We’ve encountered bridleway road crossings that lacked warning signs and others where the signs are within the braking distance of the speed limit so useless. Some bridleways suddenly acquired pedestrian chicanes (see photo) and others were overgrown to varying degrees. Sometimes I’ve reported them, using video evidence in more recent years and other times I’ve just popped back out on foot and done a bit of pruning, as do other riders.
In 2011 I gave feedback to a council project working on replacing some of the eight bridleways lost in the last 20 years due to neglect and unmarked dangerous road crossings. I also met with the BHS and the local quarry over access issues, which we resolved, as well as asked town councilors for road signs and was told a fatality was needed before we’d get them!
Participating in the public consultation about the future of Yateley Common was just another means of getting involved. I attended the open day and a common management committee meeting and raised questions in three emails with the agent handling the consultation. He answered, I can’t say I liked all the answers or even agreed with them but I didn’t pursue them. The consultation was due to end in October but the deadline was extended about the time a petition of 300 objections to the fence and graze project was handed in, organized by another rider at the other end of town.
My overwhelming impression was that horse-riders were being given little credit, indeed the agent expressed surprise that I thought the future of an internationally important SSSI site would be determined by popular vote! If that was the case why did they bother to publish the percentages of responses for their first multi-choice questionnaire? The constant platitude was they were reconsidering the position and type of gates at riders’ wishes and would only graze cattle not ponies. It was as though fencing was already approved by the Secretary of State. And yet the council staff kept contradicting each other as to the decision making process and timing of the next steps of the consultation.
Nobody allegedly knew who was making the final decision or when. Not even the commons management committee who included a commoner, Town and County Councilors. One of the County Councilors thanked me for my efforts and for asking the questions I’d been raising and encouraged me to carry on. So I did.
In the following four months I sent three emails to Hampshire County Council raising the issue of their poor conservation cattle management track record not being conducive to running a larger herd on a bigger, more urban territory – they replied the cattle didn’t belong to them so weren’t their responsibility. I created a photographic report of the eight blocked bridleways and sent it to the Countryside Team Leader who works in Winchester – she replied promptly that the council were dealing with it, which seemed highly unlikely after over twenty years of neglect and having abandoned the 2011 project. I also had a lively but relatively brief Facebook conversation with a ranger, which they subsequently deleted and asked me to email them for future discussions. Thankfully I’d already kept a copy of the conversation.
Finally, in frustration at the poorly managed consultation process, I wrote to the CEO of Hampshire County Council criticizing all the conflicting information emerging from his organization to myself, to our MP and even to the Minister of Defra as well as minuted in local society meetings. Everything in my email was evidenced with council correspondence so none of it was wild emotional accusations.
All I wanted was to know what the outcome of the consultation was or if it hadn’t been made when it was going to be taken. Plus the rangers kept inviting me to meet them but I can’t see much point in doing so if they aren’t responsible for legal rights of way, which was their previous claim. In my last email I said I’d meet them providing it was with the Countryside Access team leader and BHS representatives. Maybe my tone wasn’t as impartial as it might have been but faced with what is either serious incompetence or willful miscommunication I think a certain amount of frustration being expressed is not unreasonable. One likes to think their local authority wouldn’t tolerate either and would swiftly act to remedy such an embarrassing situation…
…48 hours later I received an email from the council banning me from communicating with them by email for the next 12 months!
They are using legislation designed to protect public servants from serious danger and threat of violence, stalking and abuse - not from somebody complaining about their cattle management, failure to maintain public rights of way and criticising their proven- poor project management skills. Whatever happened to resilience, integrity and professional detachment?