A fellow campaigner continues to contribute to resolve this issue of intrusive footpaths in family homes and has written to The Rt Hon Oliver Letwin MP on the subject.
12 January 2013 The Rt Hon Oliver Letwin, MP The House of Commons Whitehall London SW1A 0AA
On 16 July 2012, I sent you a paper titled ‘The Lost Ways Scam’. I do not wish to repeat what I said then. No doubt you will have it on file. I have attached to this letter a summary of key facts as compiled in December 2012 by Wiltshire farmer Malcolm Read. The Quango Natural England revisited the subject of the alleged pre-1949 Lost Ways in association with DEFRA. Of their own volition, they selected 15 Stakeholders to form a Stakeholders’ Working Group (SWG). The selection criterion for this Group was to reach a consensus, which they did achieve. Repeating that which he had been told by his Officials, the Minister said the Group had a ‘balanced representation’. Read indicates there were 12 stakeholders clearly on the access side with 3 who could be said to represent landowners. My hesitation here is due to the performance of those 3 people, one the CLA Access Official, another representing the NFU and the third with no specific affiliation. Notwithstanding this reservation, talk of a ‘balanced representation’ is out of place. Natural England’s Report included 32 Recommendations adopted unanimously by the 15 Stakeholders. When the Natural England Report’s recommendations were transferred to the DEFRA Report, the 32 Recommendations remained intact, ring-fenced and bore the warning not to tamper with the consensus achieved. The Recommendations were self-serving which, if agreed, would considerably widen the present imbalance between the access industry and country dwellers. Two of the 32 Recommendations proposed formalising the function of the SWG in perpetuity, which means the 3 stakeholders thought to be pro-landowner had voted themselves into a Group as a small, perpetual minority, unable to make any impact in the decision-making process. You are on the record as having said that the presence of the two CLA and NFU officials justified the assertion that a proper balance had been achieved within the SWG. That is not true. Given their performance, I and many others would not wish to be identified with the decisions they took. If you refer to para 6 of the 16th July letter, you will see reference to the proceedings in such terms as “a bloody nightmare”, that they “considered walking out on several occasions”. We ought to call a psychologist to consider the pressures under which this minority worked. I told you what the third person said when asked why he had identified himself with 32 Recommendations. “Because I feared what would happen to my property if I had not”. The 32 Recommendations were passed from the DEFRA drafters into the hands of their colleagues in a Reform Group that was to report its conclusions to the Minister. The Recommendations which formed the basis of the ‘consultation’ were not to be touched. There is no evidence that this evidence of impropriety was followed-up as it should have been. There is no curiosity; mere apathy in line with the “that’s how it is” philosophy. The informant referred to here was the same individual who proposed a reason for country people being abandoned to their fate at the hands of the access fraternity. He said the Government did not wish to be seen as ‘tweedy Tories’. Perhaps, but from a policy viewpoint, the ultimate consideration is, which side promises the maximum electoral benefit. In order to democratise the process, an Alternative Stakeholders’ Working Group (ASWG) was assembled from 12 people countryside who had been victimised by the access industry or had bad experiences to relate. Of the 12 who contributed to this random survey, only 2 belonged to either the CLA or NFU. Fifty per cent were homeowners ineligible for either CLA or NFU representation. The stories they told are horrendous, particularly when consideration is given to the fact that those responsible for endemic bullying are government officials, national and local, supported by members of the access industry. There are two suicides, two families made bankrupt during the course of defending their properties, rampant malpractice including manipulation of the law. In summary therefore, you misrepresent the emphasis to be placed on the presence of the access representatives within the SWG and have chosen to ignore completely the important contributions made by the ASWG. They do not take kindly to being routinely ignored. No one seems to have noticed that there is no evidence that lost ways do exist and, if that is the case, why are they still lost given the frenetic activity post 1949, using methods fair and foul to account for every possibility? The literature talks of 10,000 paths awaiting claim. It is important that the access industry does provide evidence. This is for them an exercise in jobs and status. The 10,000 paths have a value within this particular scam since it translates into a requirement to quadruple the present levels of access support. Who is to pay?There was a time when you were prepared to assist those being confronted by Access Officials abusing their office with a view to securing advantage. There were three of us who made up an ad hoc delegation who had applied to Secretary of State DEFRA for an interview to discuss with him experiences arising in West Dorset of malfeasance within DEFRA. He agreed, only at the eleventh hour cancelling the arrangement. In your letter to a High Court Judge you wrote: “On 10 November 2006, I wrote to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I raised with him the concerns that had been raised with me about the fairness and impartiality of the Inquiry in the hope that he would avoid the need for a Judicial Review by convening another Inquiry. He appears to have been assured by his officials that there was no need for such action – hence, his refusal to contemplate another Inquiry. The Inspector, a Member of the Institute of Public Rights of Way Officers, had the immediate advantage and sympathy of a Judge who adopted her as his tribune of fact. The Inspector was not impartial, was not Independent and nor was the Local Public Inquiry she chaired the Tribunal specified in Law. A CID letter to the Planning Inspectorate revealed the facts had been presented with certain economies taken with the truth. CPS told me, “she will conduct no further Inquiries, she will retire”. A soft landing had therefore been arranged for the Inspector but my best efforts over the years to encourage you to ask DEFRA what they proposed to do for my family to alleviate a situation in which we were still burdened by the effects of an execrable decision have failed to achieve any positive movement from you. It was clear that something had happened in the interim period for your initial support to turn to opposition. Meanwhile, access officials continued to use their new offices to secure advantage. Let me summarise the experiences of one person from among the dozen you chose to ignore. On 13 February 2013, Alan Bowers who owns a small garage outside Bedford, is to confront the County’s Development and Management Committee with the string of offences committed against his family and home by Council Officials and associates. He will tell how County Access officials colluded with the local rambling association to establish a public footpath through his garden where none had previously existed. They used as the legal instrument with which to secure their goal Section 31 of the Highways Act 1980, also known variously as the 20 Year Rule and Cheat’s Charter. With the collaboration of what was essentially the members of one family, the numbers were generated with which to overwhelm anything Mr Bowers was able to produce in argument to the contrary. Council Access Officials were to the forefront of those assembling an opposition to confront Mr Bowers. From Council funds they paid solicitors for the sworn statements made by those opposed to the Bowers, neglecting to solicit similar statements such as from previous owners in support of the Bowers’ position. The County Access Officials came under inappropriate pressure from the Open Spaces Society and they, in turn, threatened elected members with the dire consequences that would arise if they were to support the Bowers. The upshot of this collusion was that Mr Bowers’ best efforts to defend his home resulted in a path being taken through his home, his bankruptcy and his leaving Court with a criminal record. Alan Bowers is a fighter, a good, decent man, the salt of the earth. He wanted to communicate to the Government his family’s experience with a view to putting in place measures to ensure there could be no recurrence. He was assisted by his MP, Nadine Dorries MP. He had read in the Hobhouse Report 2011 of a propensity of DEFRA officials to respond to unwelcome letters with nonsensical replies, deliberately avoiding discussion of the subject matter. In order to avoid such an ambush, he wrote directly to the Minister, Richard Benyon MP, at his office in the House of Commons. It did not work. He received a reply to the letter he sent to the Minister in the form of an email from one of the Minister’s apparatchiks, in which she said: “We do not feel that a meeting to discuss the situation would be of real benefit to any party”. It is Richard Benyon MP who appears to be the one most easily taken for a ride by his public servants. He was also the subject of an Open Letter, ‘Ten Days in Somerset’, a few months before you. Somerset Councillor Henry Hobhouse published his 2011 Hobhouse Report on 31 August 2011. As a means of demonstrating the depth of Rights of Way malpractice, he revealed details of three repugnant events which arose in Somerset within ten days of the publication of his Report. Copies of ‘Ten Days in Somerset’ were sent to Mr Benyon’s and the Secretary of State’s offices in the Commons. There was no immediate response. It was you who, on 9 January 2012, recommended Mr Benyon should reply to the revelations of malpractice in the County of Somerset. The reply made no attempt to answer the examination questions, being entirely dependent upon irrelevant gibberish:
“The Government has recognised the need for reform with regard to public rights of way legislation and that is why it confirmed in the Natural Environment White Paper: The Natural Choice: securing the value of nature, that it will consult on simplifying the processes for recording and making changes to public rights of way, based on proposals made by Natural England’s working group on unrecorded rights of way. The working group was quite unique in that it contained all the various major stakeholders (Ramblers, British Horse Society, National Farmers’ Union, Country Land and Business Association and local authorities) but all the proposals it made on changing what can be controversial legislation, were based on a consensus”.
DEFRA’s access professionals recognised that if they responded to approaches incoherently or not at all, they could avoid difficult dialogue. None of their political leadership has avoided being presented by their Officials as foolish for signing documents which are manifestly rubbish. Not one was treated with sufficient respect to avoid being drawn into their scam. The appointment of The Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP as Secretary of State was net within the AWSG with enormous enthusiasm and hope that the long-awaited Messianic figure was at last among them to restore the reputation and dignity of Government. The Hobhouse Report 2011 concludes with this sentence: “It is to be hoped that those who have the power to alter things also have the courage to resist the ingrained prejudices of administrators and see that there has to be change”. Serendipitously, the AWSG had within its ranks its own Peter, Peter Sanguinetti, who not only knows Owen Paterson but also his private email address, promising secure communications. In a letter dated 19 September and an email of 15 October 2012, Peter Sanguinetti painted a picture for the Secretary of State of the grim reality of the access industry’s operations within DEFRA. What happened next was entirely unexpected, yet reveals the depth of infiltration within DEFRA and the depth of the problem: Owen Paterson responded to Peter Sanguinetti’s correspondence in the following – recognisable terms:- “DEFRA recently embarked on a public consultation that sets out a package of proposed changes to the processes of recording, diverting and extinguishing public rights of way. I am sure you will appreciate that it would not be appropriate for me to respond to any specific points ahead of the Government’s formal response to the consultation, which we envisage will be published later this year”. An outsider looking-in on this extraordinary mating dance between a mouse and an elephant is immediately struck by the absence of realism among elected representatives. On the one side we see a large, might-is-right contingent and one far smaller, apparently content to scramble around for the crumbs which fall from the High Table. Government is put in place to govern. It is unacceptable that this so-called reform is almost entirely in the gift of what the access industry is prepared to concede to landowners, farmers and homeowners. Their present inventory of paths has been massively inflated by the post-1949 acquisition of private paths made public through lax administration. The so-called pre-1949 paths are essentially a myth. What is presented as an exercise in identifying lost ways is, in reality, a salutary example how administrators lose their way when their motives are transparently about power and position. The consensus need only last until the mechanics are in place and ready for action. After that, the majority User group will dominate the Used who have put themselves in a position as consistent losers. No thought appears to have been given to the matter of leadership, the management of dissent and writing rules. These are emotive issues. At the 4th Meeting of the Working Group in Sheffield, on 26 February 2009, there was a belief that the matter of realigning paths could be settled amicably, until the fanatics revealed their unswerving hostility. There is among them one who is known as ‘the animal’. People have to realise that the access industry has its own defined rules or understandings. On the matter of diverting paths, the same phraseology that is found in Dorset is also found in Bedforshire, - i.e. “we will not allow a precedent to be created”. It would be appropriate to conclude this section by reference to the Minister, Richard Benyon MP. There is a momentum in Warwickshire for the removal of paths from gardens. Immediately prior to Christmas 2012, the Group’s MP passed on a message from Richard Benyon MP: “The Natural England Stakeholder Working Group represents the full range of interests in rights of way matters and you may assure Mr and Mrs Ray that the interests of people with a family home affected by footpaths are represented within the group”. That is not true. “We are very much aware of the problems such footpaths can cause. Part 3 of the recent consultation was devoted to this particular issue.” Reference to the Minutes of the 4th Meeting of February 2009 reveals the extent to which the Minister is out of touch with the progress of Part 3 within his Department. I quote from Malcolm Read what happened within a Stakeholders’ Working Group unfit for purpose: “…..the class war fanatics blocked any suggestion that rights of way should be diverted from private gardens etc. even though most ordinary walkers would prefer such diversions!” That is not to say that progress will be made in Part 3 unless the Government takes over charge from the Officials and their Stakeholders. There is an unresolved problem arising from the fact that Officials in general, not just the Inspectors, start with the proposition that, because their job is to protect Rights of Way, they are suspicious of all those who wish in any way to oppose or alter a Right of Way. I am very conscious of the substantial workload you carry by virtue of your Policy responsibilities in Cabinet. The downside is felt by your constituents. You have, for example, not been able to respond to our family’s request for help in breaching DEFRA’s defences with a view to reaching a position from which to address the consequences of DEFRA’s ‘stitching us up’. Countless is the number of people who have suffered the loss of tens of thousands of pounds spent in what invariably proves to be a forlorn hope of defending their homes against the unprincipled and unscrupulous. The problem lies not entirely in the Inspectorate but also through a failure to implement present laws. We do understand that we need to work with Government incrementally, saving the big bang as a last resort. I attempted to achieve a result by sending the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on the Environment and a Member, Richard Drax MP, copies of the Open Letter to you. The Chairman, Anne McIntosh LLB MP did not reply. Richard Drax did, but only to say that he could not intervene in your constituency. The complaint had been of the recorded, endemic malpractice to be found in DEFRA. It is a policy not a parochial issue. The result therefore turns full circle with the reality that for the moment, the only sensible way forward is through your offices. If we are to put our problem in context, we note that Parliamentarians, Bankers and the Press have had their idiosyncrasies placed under microscopic investigation. The same is not true of the Public Services. The Head of Service and the Cabinet Secretary insist that their people respond to the requirements of Government. That may be true in parts but the Lost Ways initiative, the brainchild of the access industry, has been foist upon Government officers in DEFRA using all possible means to shut out valid voices of protest. The Western Daily Press, 13 June 2012, recorded the interrelationship between Government and Officials. “It’s hard to imagine a group more useless”, wondering aloud who, precisely, is in charge. They describe the image of a Minister, “frightened to death of the Civil Servants who actually are (calling the shots) and thus cannot take any decision until they have consulted, taken soundings, held workshops and assembled focus groups, the better to perpetuate the illusion that they are actually working for a living”. The Northcote-Trevelyan Report on the Organisation of the Permanent Civil Service presented to Parliament in November 1853 thought that: “Admission into the Civil Service is eagerly sought after, but it is for the unambitious, and the indolent or incapable that it is chiefly desired”. They quickly learned that the most certain way their interests could be pursued was by using their Office to hush the noise of opposing views. We have here a curious anomaly where it appears the Civil Service lead and the Minister, if he has not already conceded that lead to Civil Servants, appears unable to dominate his Department. It would be an easy way out for a Minister who, in addition to Rights of Way, is responsible for fish and flood, to allow Civil Servants carte blanche with Rights of Way. This means that the only input the Minister sees or hears is from the access industry, past masters at the exclusion of material they do not want him to see or hear. Antony Jay, the original co-writer of Yes Minister, spoke of this relationship of convenience, albeit it one that is grossly inconvenient to those who would wish to prevent the nationalisation of their private property: “Deep in their hearts, most politicians respected civil servants, and deep in their hearts most civil servants despised politicians. Part of the problem of Government is that Ministers always take the credit for successes, which focuses civil servants on avoiding blame”. “The central anomaly is that civil servants have years of experience, jobs for life and a budget of hundreds of millions of pounds, while Ministers have, usually, little or no experience of the job and could be kicked out tomorrow. After researching and writing 44 episodes and a play, I find Government much easier to understand by looking at Ministers as public relations consultants to the real Government – which is of course, the Civil Service.” The new Secretary of State DEFRA, The Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP, believes he is lucky in comparison to his peer group in having a good team of Civil Servants. Those of us who recall the badger cull problem and the matter of the Ash problem might assume such a claim overstated. Certainly we are on firmer ground in airing our doubts as to the validity of such a claim given our years of struggle against unreformed class warriors. There is a whisper in the margins that the best efforts of the Officials to censor unfavourable information is beginning to fail, that country people may yet find a champion to protect them from Government-sponsored filching or appropriation of their property under the direction of uncontrolled Government Officials. Julian Sillitoe, who lives in the Secretary of State’s Shropshire Constituency, has succeeded in describing his experiences directly to Owen Paterson. Mr Paterson bridled at Alan Titchmarsh’s claim that the Tories have lost their traditional roots in the Countryside. The Secretary of State dismissed the popular Titchmarsh as a “Muppet”. The irony is, and as we have shown, the puppet analogy could more appropriately apply to the Secretary of State and the Minister. We would wish that not to be so. The politicians need support but in the meantime a welcome change would be for them to stop signing nonsensical letters drafted by representatives of the access industry. Of course questions of loyalty and respect arise, but then, we recall Antony Jay’s truism, “civil servants despised politicians”. They are unconcerned if the politicians appear foolish. What the country people crave of their political representatives has been mentioned earlier: “It is to be hoped that those who have the power to alter things also have the courage to resist the ingrained prejudice of the present administrators and can see that there has to be change”. With best wishes, Yours sincerely,
A LETTER TO OPEN SPACES
A SOUTH Somerset campaigner has criticised the decision to remove well-established trees in Long Sutton to open up a contested bridleway. Somerset County Council has cut down trees at Kingsmoor Drove, which have stood there since 1989, in an attempt to clear the bridleway leading from Long Load to Ilchester. But Marlene Masters, who made her name campaigning about a disputed footpath in High Ham, has attacked what she has branded a "bridleway to nowhere". Council contractors have cleared vegetation, installed a culvert, felled the trees and ground down the stumps at a cost of less than £5,000, according to a council spokesman. Mrs Masters argues that consultation about the bridleway took place in the 1970s when the Ilchester bypass was being built. She said: "There was a public opportunity to claim a footpath or bridleway status when the proposal of the Ilchester dual carriageway bypass was being discussed. But no-one did, not even the parish council or the county council. The law says 'silence is acquiescence'. No claim of a bridleway at the time means that legally there is no bridleway there." Mrs Masters added that, even if the bridleway did exist, it is impossible for riders or walkers to currently use it because of the traffic. She said: "Unless traffic lights are made available and the central reservation removed by County Highways to allow the 'alleged ancient historic bridleway' to cross over the four lanes, then there is no way the riders can continue through. They have no permission to use the over-bridge and ride a horse under the RNAS Yeovilton flight path." Mrs Masters has now applied for the bridleway to be deleted from the county council's official maps.
The council has said that the removal of the trees was undertaken as part of its statutory duty and that the scope had been agreed with the landowner in October. It added that "the existence of the bridleway is not seriously disputed" following a public enquiry nine years ago, which was upheld at a High Court appeal.
A spokesman said: "Previous attempts to formally divert the bridleway around a woodland that obstructs the way have unfortunately failed. "We had been served a Highways Act notice by a third party to clear the woodland obstruction, and if we fail to remove the obstruction the matter could be referred to the Magistrates Court. "The bridleway still remains obstructed by the A303 near Ilchester and we continue to look at options with Highways England to resolve this. The nearby over-bridge is only available for pedestrians. There are no public access rights for cyclists or horse-riders over this bridge.The works will provide for a more direct through route for walkers between Long Load and Ilchester." The council has not confirmed the identity of the third party who served the notice for the trees to be removed.
Comments Holly 28/1/2016 Well done Ann for putting the situation so well. Unfortunately the OS supporter who was so rude to you and wishes to *Claim his rights* also blames the Councillors as he believes they are giving themselves pay rises instead of using the public purse for what is intended. No idea if this is true or not as I am not a resident of Bedfordshire, Maybe the Councillors of Bedfordshire should contact OS supporter Brian and discuss his issues with how the public purse is being spent on apparent Councillor pay rises. Ann 29/1/2016 Thank you very much for your support Holly. It is encouraging that you noticed 'the tweet'. Quite out of order!
CONTRIBUTION TO A LETTER DRAFTED TO OLIVER LETWIN MP
A campaign group in the South West have recently sent a letter to Oliver Letwin MP and asked for a contribution from Intrusive Footpaths; our contribution can be viewed via the link below.
An article has been received from Dr Richard Connaughton, another campaigner for the removal of intrusive footpaths. His article illustrates the difficulties faced when trying to find a way forward for removal of intrusive footpaths.
Here is an interesting article, commenting on the coastal access path. It comes from Tim Bonner, the Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance. He is a keen walker himself but understands perfectly the balance between “users” and property owners.
We note that those that are so keen on opening up access are careful to ensure that this doesn’t include their own properties.
The story also gives a unique insight in to minister's and DEFRA’s attitude to landowners as “enemies of the people”. The same attitude despite contradictory ministers' statements still seems to prevail towards those unfortunate enough to have a footpath through their garden.
One can only hope that the round Britain coastal access path doesn’t go through too many people’s gardens. We can be confident it won’t be going through any minister’s property!