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.