Agenda item

Public Participation

At the time of Agenda publication there is a Petition being presented by residents of Kiln Croft and Skelsmergh Hall for a pedestrian link alongside A6 Shap Road, Skelsmergh.

 

Minutes:

1          Request for a pedestrian link alongside the A6, Shap Road, Skelsmergh

 

Mr Graham White handed over a petition with 31 signatures on it, on behalf of the local community. A footpath was requested and this was supported by the Parish Council.

 

Mr John Chapman – Chairman of Skelsmergh and Scalthwaiterigg Parish Council (in supporting the petition) made the following points in his statement:

 

·         The parish of Skelsmergh and Scalthwaiterigg straddles the A6 to the north of Kendal from the town boundary to the Selside boundary approximately 3 miles north.

·         The current year’s precept was £4661 of which a substantial part is committed to staff costs and standing expenditure. The statutory maximum permitted amount for Section 137 discretionary spending is £3,101.84.

·         Efforts by the parish council to establish a surfaced path date back to the consultation by SLDC on the application to convert redundant agricultural buildings in 2000. The parish council’s recommendation was disregarded at the planning stage.

·         County Councillors Thornton and Collins had provided financial support when the parish council tried to revive the establishment of a surfaced path, the total cost of which was over £60,000.

·         The establishment of a surfaced path was the solution to which the parish council and the residents remain committed and they will continue to argue for

·         In the interim, a measure the residents would be prepared to accept was a mown strip but this, too, has been denied by highway managers, allegedly to comply with conservation measures.

·         Research has identified that a relatively cheap and easy solution could be found by the use of free-draining Terram ‘Grass Protecta’ matting, the sort of product which is used extensively for surfacing car parks at venues and events. This is held in place by ground staples and permits grass to grow through.

·         We have no estimate for labour as yet but if it were to equal the cost for materials the whole project could be realised for less than £10,000.  The main issue is the need to have the approval of highway engineers.

·         We believe that the works would have no measurable effect on the adjacent highway and we also submit that it should be paid for as a minor highway improvement.

·         We think that there is a good case so residents of Kiln Croft can have access to local shops on foot. We ask officers to consider the proposal and ascertain its feasibility and ask that the County Council funds the footpath.

 

The Chair thanked Mr Chapman

 

Mr White then made a statement covering the following points:

 

·         On the face of it, the petition appeared simple – a request to have a verge cut along a stretch of the A6

·         The petition was the latest act in exasperation after nearly 20 years of campaigning for a footpath alongside the stretch of road

·          He had documentation in support of the campaign starting with a please to Skelsmergh Parish Council dated September 2000 which included letters of support from current and previous MPs

·         It was a busy stretch of trunk road and the lack of path put pedestrians at risk from traffic travelling at the national speed limit

·         The route of the footpath was explained in detail

·         The area was traditionally rural but in the 1960s Skelsmergh Hall had been split into 2 residences, then further properties were built along the access road to the farm

·         In 2002 Kiln Croft was created by development of the far buildings into 11 properties. Further properties had been built with more in the process of being built.

·         The area now had 26 properties and over 50 residents including families with children

·         Every time a planning application had been considered by the Council, there had been an opportunity to insist on a pedestrian access along the A6 but this had never materialised

·         6 years ago SLDC agreed that a path would be appropriate and offered a grant of £21,000 which was dependent on the community raising £40,000 to meet the cost of the work.

·         This was unachievable which meant that pedestrians walked a dangerous path or used the uneven verge and due to the Council decision to stop regularly mowing verges this was no longer an option as the verge was overgrown

·         Members were asked to note the number of signatories but represented virtually everyone in the community. Members were asked to note the comments

·         Mr Thornton talked about redeveloping the already existing piece of footpath down the A6 and had said that the County Council should be putting in place measures to enable every child to walk or cycle safely to school. He asked about the children of Skelsmergh as there was no footpath at all.

·         The petition asked for grass cutting but what residents wanted was a footpath

 

The Chair read out the following response:

 

 

Thank you for presenting your petition to Local Committee today. As you say the local desire for a footway provision at this location has been evident for some time with this last being looked at in detail in 2014. At that time the estimated cost of the project was indeed £65,000 for a traditionally constructed footway.

 

I note that you are now requesting that Cumbria Highways consider an alternative matting approach to be laid on the verge rather than a traditional footway construction. We will consider this solution and respond to you in due course regarding its suitability in this location taking into account any future maintenance implications. If this option is considered viable a cost for the works will be developed and funding will need to be sought from funds other than the Local Committee’s devolved highway maintenance funds.

 

Mr White asked whether the Committee would consider funding of a footpath rather than the Terram ‘Grass Protecta’. The Highways Network Manager stated that this was requested in the submission to the Committee and that in order to deliver the provision of a footpath, a funding stream would need to be made available. It was queried whether Community Infrastructure Levy funding had been used. It was confirmed that it had not.

 

2       Petition regarding the cessation of the 552 Bus Service

 

Mr Peter Smillie, the Chair of Arnside Parish Council presented a Petition with 1021 signatories. The petition urged the County Council to reconsider its decision to stop subsidising public transport and work with bus companies to find a way to fully reinstate the 552 bus service in order to provide daily access to local villages, the town of Kendal and other key locations such as Westmorland General Hospital. The petition was signed by people who lived along the old 552 bus route. This had been recently terminated by Stagecoach as it had lost the school bus contract.

 

Mr Smillie made the following points:

 

·         Residents needed the bus service for work, there used to be a 6 days a week bus service

·         Mark Hodgkiss had managed to retain a Monday to Wednesday service on a once a day basis

·         There were 3000 residents in the area who thought they deserved more than a 3 days a week, once a day bus service

·         People would use the service if one was provided

·         People couldn’t use the current service to get to work due to the timings of the service

·         With regard to hospital visits, stops could be made on request but appointments were not allocated around the bus timetable

·         A bus service fit for purpose was required

 

The Chairman read out the following response:

 

The County Council is very pleased that a new operator has stepped in to maintain the service particularly that they have now decided to maintain the service for Sedgwick and Natland

 

We would encourage all those who signed the petitions to make use of the service, even on an occasional basis, to help ensure that the operator finds the route viable to maintain, and potentially in future restores to running six days a week.

 

If anyone has feedback or suggestions how the service can be made more attractive to potential new users, I would encourage them to contact the operator or the County Council’s Public Transport team.

 

Discussion ensued on the contract requirements during the tender process. Mr Smillie advised on the reasons for the Stagecoach contract being terminated. A member asked that that during the tendering process, officers give consideration to the wider implications to the community of bus companies losing contracts.  The Cabinet Member for Finance commented on the strict regulations in the contracting process which the Chair acknowledged.

 

3             The recreational 'off road' use of county roads, particularly UCR 5015 (Borwick Ground-High Oxen Cross) and county responsibilities in the matter.

 

Mr Kilner made the following statement:

 

My name is Graham Kilner. I am a resident of Hawkshead Hill and I recently circulated a note to the Chairman and members of your Traffic and Transportation Working Group requesting a meeting to discuss the issue of recreational ‘Off-Road’ use of County Roads. But as I have received neither an acknowledgement nor response, it seemed right that I should make a brief statement to this committee.

 

I live by, and am a regular user of, the unclassified road between Borwick Ground and High Oxon Fell, which is the road running to the north of Tarn Hows. This road, Unclassified County Road 5015, is heavily used by visitors; no longer used by horses because it is unsafe; and heavily used by off-road vehicles and motorcycles. Once used by regular local traffic, it has been systematically destroyed by inappropriate use. It is one of your approved HOTR routes.

 

You will all be aware that following representations from residents in Little Langdale concerning the nuisance and damage caused by off-road vehicles, the issue was considered recently by LDNPA, who decided that it wasn’t much of a problem. This was not entirely unexpected because the NPA will usually support any ‘commercial adventure attraction’ in the Lake District. And it can afford to be indifferent to the impact on these roads because it is not responsible for their maintenance -you are.

 

A range of euphemistic expressions is used to describe these unclassified county roads. They are called ‘trails’, ‘tracks’, ‘green roads’, or ‘un-surfaced’. None of these are legal terms, and none are correct. But they serve to provide the impression that they are un-made or un-metalled roads. They are not. They are, or were, metalled roads for which you are responsible -and responsible for maintaining. Legally, they are no different to the A590 – they are roads ‘maintainable at the public expense’. And this is not permissive. Under section 41 of the 1980 Highways Act you are bound to maintain them.

 

41 (1) the authority who are for the time being the highway authority for a highway maintainable at the public expense are under a duty….. To maintain the highway.’

 

Note the word, duty. You have failed to maintain these roads, failed to undertake your duty, so, have effectively abandoned them– which is illegal.

Furthermore, in encouraging ‘off-roader’ use with its inevitable consequential damage to the structure of these roads, (which is an offence (Highways Act S131)), I believe you are treading on thin ice.

 

In addition, as these are county roads, you are liable for any loss to a member of the public as a result of your failure to maintain. (Miscellaneous Provisions Act 1961)

 

It is also known that under the ludicrous ‘consensus management’ arrangements, third parties have been unofficially carrying out ‘so called’ maintenance on some of these roads. This is also illegal (Highways Act Section 131).

 

Importantly, in failing to maintain these roads you have failed to maintain the value of the asset, a key objective of any maintenance system. So, abandonment of your duty has led to public financial loss with a consequential cost to put right which will be a charge on the public purse- a point that the District Auditor has been known to take an interest in.

 

It is incredible that any County Council could get itself into such a position. Off-roading is defined as the driving over challenging terrain. How could any self-respecting highway authority ever permit any of its roads to be described as ‘challenging terrain’?

 

However, how you got yourself into to such a position is history, and the decisions which led to it probably long pre-dated the involvement of any current member or officer of the Council. But, of course, once you know-you know. And you know there is a problem.

 

So, where do you go from here? I assume that, if you don’t already know, you will seek to confirm that what I assert is correct. And if confirmed, and because no public authority can knowingly act illegally, you will need to seek solutions to the problem.

 

For the last eight months I have been trying to engage with your officers on this issue, without success. Letter have either been ignored, or have simply stated County Policy, which suggests that officers know exactly what the problem is but prefer to keep their heads in the sand. The simple underlying position is that these unclassified roads are your roads, your responsibility, and your duty to maintain.

 

You have acted illegally in abandoning them; permitted third parties to commit offences of damaging the highway; permitted unlawful works on the highway; failed to secure the value of the highway asset, and put the Council at financial risk through consequential accidents.

 

It is time to act. The first responsible response should be to prevent further deterioration and damage to this and other similar roads by making appropriate temporary traffic restriction orders. This will give you breathing space to consider ways to remedy the situation.

 

The Chair read out the following response:

 

Within Cumbria there are some 390km of unsurfaced minor roads, of which approximately 158km, or 40%, falls within the South Lakeland area.

 

The Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 redefined the network of routes available for recreational green road driving. Since the 2006 Act routes shown on the Definitive Map as Public Footpath, Public Bridleway and Restricted Bridleway do not have any public motor vehicle rights of way.  

 

The Hierarchy of Trail Routes approach is County-wide and provides the basis for a sustainable management regime for mechanically propelled vehicles on legal routes, including unclassified county roads. The Hierarchy of Trails information is available on the Cumbria County website, providing extensive information to those wishing to use the routes.

 

The Hierarchy of Trail Routes is a management approach for the level of activity on green roads through voluntary restraint rather than statutory legislation.

The aim of the Hierarchy is not to promote or stop use but to eliminate irresponsible use. Between 1995 and 1997 over 100 unsealed unclassified roads (UCRs) and Byways Open to All Traffic (BOATs) were identified and surveyed by Rangers and local users, and then categorised by overall condition, likelihood of conflict with other users, proximity to buildings and livestock, and narrowness.

There is a three-colour code system which is explained on the County’s website but essentially

  • Green routes - proceed with caution:
  • Amber routes - proceed with special care and attention and follow advice given by signs:
  • Red routes - proceed only with great care and follow advice on signs explaining special controls in place:
    Experience significant use, attract the greatest number of complaints regarding vehicular use, under the greatest pressure and are subject to the greatest conflict between users and users and the environment. Some routes cross the high fells and are badly eroded. Recreational vehicle users are asked to comply with voluntary restraint controls. For example 4x4s will be advised not to use certain routes, one way traffic will be recommended on others or users may be asked not to use a route between holiday dates when it is heavily used by walkers and horse-riders.

 

It is widely recognised that everyone should have an equal opportunity to enjoy the benefits of countryside access.

Management of routes includes maintenance and repair, such as large-scale drainage and re-surfacing projects by field teams and private contractors. Maintenance tasks are carried out by volunteers and local users acting as voluntary lengths men.

Turning now to the U5015. This is categorised as a red route on the Hierarchy of Trails. When the level of use was monitored between August and November 2000 this road had the highest level of use of any unsealed road in the LDNPA area at that time. Between 2003 and 2005 it was the second busiest road of the 20 surveyed at that time, according to figures supplied by the LDNPA. No more recent figures are available.

 

In your statement you mentioned that you had been in contact with Officers regarding this route. The Local Area Network Manager did inform you that the road would be surveyed to establish its current condition. The outcome of this survey is as follows.

 

The surface is a mixture of hard packed and loose stone with bedrock visible in some places. Within the last 3 years some minor works have taken place to reduce the difference in height between the packed stone surface and the exposed bedrock. There has been work undertaken by the LDNPA and user group maintenance. Works have also been undertaken to improve the drainage in some areas.

 

The survey shows that road is in the early stages of needing some works in targeted areas to include the placement of aggregate. The drainage is need of some clearance works and a further detailed culvert survey is required to establish the condition of these drainage systems.

 

Far from being unusable the route is still serviceable and the works identified will be prioritised for repair alongside other reported highway defects taking into account the road network hierarchy and the funding available.

 

Mr Kilner then stated that the response missed his point and that this was an important problem as the County Council had acted ultra-vires. He considered the response to be a ‘hand off’ to what was an important matter of principle. He stated that if the County Council did not act then he would take the matter further.