The location of a public inquiry in Somerset, last week.
There’s a word … ‘implications’.
This new prohibition of driving sign was recently spotted at one end of a BOAT/unclassified road in Northumberland. Fair enough, you say? Yes, well … these traffic signs can be used only where these is an underpinning traffic order and – you guessed it – there isn’t one here.
Northumberland County Council said, “We have arranged for these signs to be removed as there is no associated traffic regulation order. We are investigating to find out why these signs were put up and will make sure that the relevant people are reminded of the implications.”
So, with 270 unlawful ‘Cyclists Dismount’ signs put up and then removed, that makes 272 in 2017, and counting.
Northumberland County Council erects 270 unlawful road signs, and promptly has to take them down again.
Towards the end of March 2017, Alan Kind and some chums were out for a walk near Simonburn, just north of the Roman Wall, and they happened across a cattle grid (in a blacktopped BOAT, as it happens), with a ‘CYCLISTS DISMOUNT’ road sign clipped on to the pole of each standard ‘Cattle grid’ sign.
‘What’s all this?’ was the cry, and one of the group said ‘these are springing up at cattle grids all over the county.’ ‘Unlawful signs’ opined ADK, who wrote to the Chief Executive of Northumberland County Council on 24 March, saying, “May I please have a copy of your risk assessment and reasons, and any relevant officer’s report, that led to the installation of these signs? These signs are unlawful. The ‘Cattle Grid’ sign does not permit (by the Act and Regulations) the addition of any plate; and the ‘Cyclists Dismount’ plate cannot be used in this situation. Please tell me if you disagree and why.”
Now, remember this is Northumberland County Council, and so the usual response is to do nothing. And that’s what they did. Nothing. So ADK wrote again on 27 April. This prompted a back-dated reply of 26 April saying, “… the current 2016 Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions does allow if required, for a supplementary plate to be provided in conjunction with the ‘Cattle Grid’ warning sign indicating a distance with or without a direction arrow; a direction arrow; or ‘Horse drawn vehicles or animals’ and a direction arrow.
“While the cyclist dismount sign does not convey the message supported by that of the cattle grid supplementary plate, Chapter 1 of the Traffic Signs Manual does allow for the provision of different types of signs on the same post which also removes the need for additional street furniture to be placed within the highway.
“Local Transport Note 2/08 Cycle Infrastructure Design also indicates that the cyclist dismount sign should be used in relatively rare situations where it would be unsafe or impracticable for a cyclist to continue riding.
“Consequently as a result of incidents reported to the County Council by cyclists at this particular location, officers considered it was necessary to advise cyclists to dismount and walk over the cattle grid rather than risk potential injury whilst riding across it especially during inclement weather conditions, hence the introduction of these advisory signs.”
So the real reason for the signs is clear: liability avoidance consequent on some ‘reported incidents’ (plural) “at this particular location” (singular). And at how many other sites were similar signs erected? 134 others (at least) making 270 signs in total.
ADK wrote again on 5 May saying, “I read what you say, but your use of ‘Cyclists Dismount’ plates is still not lawful. I accept that more than one sign (as distinct from a plate, or associated plate) can, in some situations, be mounted on a single pole. But the ‘Cyclists Dismount’ sign (plate) can only be used in the circumstances set out in Schedules to the 2016 Regulations and Directions.
“‘Cyclists Dismount’ is in the sign table to Schedule 11, Part 2, and Column 2, which sets out where this sign may be used states: ‘Diagram 966. Pedal cyclists to … dismount at the end of, or at a break in, a cycle track or route.’ A road sign or plate using the words ‘Cyclists Dismount’ cannot be used elsewhere. In that respect the 2106 Regulations have consolidated and buttressed the rules, and not ‘deregulated’ them. This stricture on use is also set out in DfT Circular 01/2016. The Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2016.
“A ‘Cyclists Dismount’ sign (plate) is to be used at the point at which cyclists should dismount. In this situation at Simonburn, even if the use of the sign is proper (which IMV it is not) then the signs should be at the point of dismount, not on a convenient but distant existing pole, sited for motor traffic according the the earlier Regulations.
“Local Transport Note 2/08 Cycle Infrastructure Design relates to that ‑ cycle infrastructure ‑ which is cycle lanes, cycle tracks, etc. That Note is not relevant to the ordinary passage of ordinary cyclists along the carriageway of an ordinary public motor road.
“The road at Simonburn is not a ‘cycle track or route’ (a ‘route’ has a particular meaning in the Regulations), rather it is a minor blacktopped public motor road. If the cattle grid is dangerous, then it needs to be repaired. Your FoI officer tells me that you have installed, or are installing, similar signage at 135 locations. Are these all similarly dangerous?
“In my letter of 24 March, and again on 27 April, I asked, ‘May I please have a copy of your risk assessment and reasons, and any relevant officer’s report, that led to the installation of these signs?’ You have not provided this. May I please have the risk assessments and notes of the site visits for the 135 locations at which you intend to erect these signs?”
This is Northumberland, remember, and so no reply, or the additional information requested, was sent. ADK wrote again on 19 May, expanding the reasons against the signs’ use. Yes, you guessed, no reply, and so on 25 May a pre-action protocol letter was sent. Yet more delay, and on 15 June, the director of local services wrote to say that he had looked again at the matter, and the signs (£6,000-worth, not including labour) will be removed.
The earlier request for the officers’ reports, etc, had of course been ignored, and a Freedom of Information notice issued to focus their minds. The reply is dumfounding: “The decisions to erect the advisory signs were made at an area level and discussions were verbal within the office between the Highway Inspectors, Compliance Officer and Area Manager, therefore there are no records held of e-mail correspondence, reports, meeting notes or telephone calls.”
So 270 unlawful signs, costing £6,000 to buy (plus work) were bought and erected with no paper trail whatsoever, on the basis of ‘reported incidents’ at one location. What sort of public authority behaves like that? Well, Northumberland County Council does.
Another FoI request has been served for the ‘reported incidents’ details. Maybe they don’t exist, either … This report will be updated in due course.
And, of course, the stupidity is that cyclists could lawfully be obliged to push their machines over one, some, or all cattle grids in the county by the use of a ‘no cycling’ traffic order. The roundel signs wouldn’t cost any more. But such a TRO would have to be evidence-based, justified and merited, and you have to ask yourself, is there really any evidence that 135 cattle grids in Northumberland are somehow significantly more dangerous to cyclists that cattle grids in general? Probably not.
It all beggars belief.
Ten months to get one illegally ploughed headland footpath reinstated.
Public footpath 419/048 leaves bridleway 419/007 at about grid reference 17142-76422, and runs largely north to Berwick Hill Low House, which can be found on Landranger mapping, 2,5 miles just east of north from the centre of Ponteland, Northumberland. It is a headland footpath and thus cannot be ploughed; it must be left at least 1.5 metres (that’s nearly 5 feet, Christian) wide, clear, and undisturbed.
On 31 July 2016, Alan Kind watched and photographed as the huge arable fields hereabouts were harrowed after ploughing ‑ including this footpath ‑ and then went home and wrote to Northumberland County Council, pointing out that this destruction seems to be an offence under s.131A of the Highways Act 1980, and asking, “Please tell me what you intend to do and when I can expect to find this headland properly reinstated and consolidated, and fit to walk upon.”
NCC’s Tim Fish replied on 12 August saying that he had not served notice on the landowner, but “intend to get the matter resolved with their cooperation.”
Well, of course, this being Northumberland, absolutely nothing was done. ADK wrote again on 24 October 2016, pointing out that 12 weeks had passed and the situation was the same. He reminded Mr Fish that the council could refer the destruction to the Rural Payments Agency as a potential breach of ‘cross compliance.’ What is the point of these rules when councils choose not to use them as an enforcement tool?
Still nothing happened (Northumberland, remember?) and ADK wrote again on 5 December 2016, reminding NCC that the window for action under s.131A was rapidly closing. He also served a notice under s.56 of the Highways Act 1980.
31 January 2017 and … nothing done. Another letter, this time promising to ‘cut back the hedge’ and ‘spray-off any additional width of the emergent crop.’ Well, the path is alongside the hedge, and not in it, and ‘spraying off’ the crop hardly replaces a destroyed former consolidated headland … does it? NCC also fell back on ‘wet ground conditions’ to which ADK replied (he’d been logging this in anticipation), “the ground has not been too wet for six months, and we have had a drier-than-average January.” Most of the following late winter and spring was unseasonably dry, too. On 14 February NCC gave the landowner until 28 February to carry out the reinstatement; on 26 February nothing had been done.
On 10 May 2017, ADK wrote to NCC saying, “Following your letter of 14 February telling me that the landowner has until 28 February to reinstate the footpath, you backtracked in your letter of 27 March due to ‘wet conditions’.The BBC yesterday reported that we have just had the two driest winters in twenty years, and that March and April were exceptionally dry.” The path was still not reinstated.
Come 23 May 2017, and ADK found the footpath ‘reinstated’, not as a firm, consolidated headland, but as a crop-cleared strip.
Not particularly pleasant to see or walk on. 10 months, that took. 10 months of inaction and a dogged refusal to tackle head-on what should be a very straightforward matter. Extrapolate this county-, or country-wide, and it is small wonder that the situation out there on the ground is sliding backwards towards the 1970s.
In the Highest Roads paper, the height of the top of the road over Chapel Fell seems now to be resolved at 2067 feet, courtesy of the researches by Geoff Barber. Thanks Geoff. The relevant page has been annotated, and the document relinked.
Do you ever wonder if councils are strapped for cash because they waste so much of it? In January 2016 I noticed a pair of these council road signs on a minor public road a mile away from Graveller Towers here in sunny Gasforth. What struck me was that, i) the major road at the T-junction ahead is not a dual carriageway and never has been, and, ii) this sign does not appear to be in the Traffic Signs Directions (the then-current version) and so is unlawful anyway. A letter winged its way on 11 January to Newcastle City Council (whose highways people are generally pretty businesslike and helpful these days).
A prompt reply confirmed that the signs “provide incorrect advice” and “need to be amended”, but no admission that they do not conform to the regulations, and, from the records, no idea when they were erected, or why. But, anyway, “we will now arrange for the signs to be removed and replaced ….” Fair enough.
12 June. “You wrote to me on 19 January 2016 telling me that the ‘incorrect’ road signs on Heathery Lane will be removed and replaced with correct (and not dangerous) signs. Now, five months on from my letter to you, the unlawful and dangerously misleading signs are still in place. Surely it does not take five months to sort something like this? At the least, the incorrect signs should be removed or covered (as DfT guidance recommends).” Yes. DfT guidance advises that incorrect road signs can simply be covered-up as a temporary measure. How long would that take?
1 August. “You emailed me on 23 June telling me that you had ‘chased up’ the removal of these 2 unlawful and dangerously misleading road signs. Removal is the work of 10 minutes for a crew already in that area. You said that you ‘anticipate’ that the signs would be removed during July. Well, as at 28 July they were still there. This has been going on for 25 weeks now. Absolutely ridiculous. Can you please tell me when this matter will be concluded?”
18 August. “Thank you for your email, I am sorry for the delay in my response, I have just found that I had not replied to your email. I have asked one of my team to get a date for these works to be undertaken and will ask them to forward this to you as I am now on leave for a couple of weeks. cc Streetworks for booking in and out and street filing.”
23 August. “I have been asked … to chase up the removal of these signs. I have spoken to our works section and they have confirmed that the old signs have been removed but the new sign, although ordered has not been received yet. I have been assured that the new sign will be installed as soon as they receive it.”
29 August. The two incorrect signs have finally gone after more than seven months, along with one of the poles. One new sign is in place.
But does it really need seven months, a senior highways engineer (BEng CEng MCIHT), and a works order for ‘Streetworks’, for a job that a local crew could have done in 15 minutes straight after lunch? Maybe it does, and maybe these days it would have needed a ‘Streetworks’ order just to put a black sack over each and gaffer it in place? In this case might the admin have cost more than the gang work Itself?
Truly, the world is going to Hell in a handcart.
This photograph is of Gravel Lane at Berwick Hill, Northumberland. That is nowhere near Berwick upon Tweed, but the name probably has the same root: ‘barley farm’, and Berwick Hill, high above the former marsh and lagoon of Prestwick Carr, is a very old landscape indeed. And so you might reasonably think that Gravel Lane is a very old road in this very old landscape? And given that there is no evidence of a gravel pit up here (the highest land thereabouts) you might suppose that the name derives from the character of the lane?
Whatever. Gravel Lane and its continuations have had problems for decades: problems that never get sorted. in December 2014 Northumberland County Council undertook to do some clearance work on the wooded part of the lane where trees, branches and scrub rendered it unusable. Some clearance was done, but not on the bridleway. Branches were cut well off to one side, and then dumped on to the bridleway, to make the situation even worse. Are these people born stupid, or do they go on a special training course?
Anyway, another part of the recent complaint (and this is also ongoing for years) concerned the exposed top-strand of barbed wire along the unauthorised cross-fence and right to the gate in the photograph (and more, along the lane, to the right). Just be clear on this: that is an unauthorised fence and gateway, with naked barbed wire, and yet NCC has installed a spanking new bridle gate on the taxpayers’ tab … It beggars belief.
NCC now declines to take any action for the safety of the public (and horses) because they are ‘in discussions’ with the landowner about a possible diversion of the bridleway. That ‑ if it ever happens ‑ will be years into the future.
Readers may have noted the approach of Derbyshire County Council in the previous post ‘Can-do Attitude’ (11 July 2016) where, alerted to a similar situation (alerted just the once) an officer went out and made it safe with a pipe-cover and a hammer. Quick, cheap, easy, not rocket science.
Why such a positive attitude to statutory duties in Derbyshire, and so dog-in-manger in Northumberland? It can’t be resources because this case has rolled on since before, and through, the cash-dripping days of the 1990s and early 2000s and, anyway, clearing the wrong branches costs at least as much as doing the job right in the first place. You tell me.
If you are involved with rights of way work then you will know that some highway authorities seem to spend more resources on not doing a job than it would take to do it. Not so Derbyshire County Council in a recent case.
Graveller was out on a site visit in that county in mid-June and happened upon a junction where a footpath left a bridleway, with skin-ripping barbed wire perilously close to a stile and gate. A letter winged its way to the CEO of DCC on 27 June.
On 6 July Henry Woolley of DCC emailed to say, “I have been and inspected the stile entrance and found it to be a possible safety issue with walkers accessing the stile. My investigations into trying to find the landowner, who would be responsible to carry out the repair / safety modification on the fence, came to an end when his neighbour said that he had recently died. So to ensure public safety, I returned to the site and covered the problem area with two lengths of MDPE pipe. The barbs on the wire around the gate post has been hammered into the wood, please see attached photos. I trust that this is to your satisfaction but if it isn’t, please notify me again.”
So, a simple, pragmatic, prompt and effective solution, and a big ‘well done’ to Henry and DCC.
A ‘well done’ to Newcastle City Council for finally – after many years and many letters – removing the unlawful locked gate on the restricted byway at Dentmires Bridge, Gosforth.
A cynic might think that this is simply to make easier the passage of speeding bicycles along this downhill, blacktopped dragstrip, and might wonder if the structure is British Standard compliant, but hey! at least this council has done something positive here, at last. Got to be a nine from Olde Grav.