Monday, 4 June 2012

Trouble In Kitty's Wood

A Public Right of Way Into Kitty's Wood
 Steven Horner alerted me to an issue developing in Kitty's Wood, and today me and superdawg went to have a look.

First of all, I should explain a bit about the history of Kitty's Wood.

Once upon a time there was a huge industrial complex which provided a substantial amount of employment for the population of Crook. This consisted of a coal mine, a brickworks, coke ovens, a benzene factory an enormous spoil heap and a vast area of railway sidings. This complex had a long history but closed in the 1960's and the landscape was recreated into fields and woodland in the 1970's.

This is Kitty's wood and the locala population of Roddymoor, Crook and Billy Row have enjoyed free access to it ever since. It is crossed by several public rights of way and within it's depths are paths created by usage over time by dog walkers, cyclists, horseriders and people just out for a stroll

It has had issues with off-road trail bikes and litter and yoof bonfire booze-ups and eejits digging dens in the spoil tips and so on, but generally its been a popular resort for innocent enjoyment.

But it's been sold by the County Council and, suddenly, narbed wire entaglements and brush and tree barricades have appeared and general access is now not possible. As you can imagine, the good people of Crook, Roddymoor and Billy Row are a bit miffed about this and there are dark mutterings.

So, I went to see what it was all about.

Blocked Path with Cut Wire (Not currently a PROW)

Me and the dawg walked along all of the rights of way bordering or crossing into and out of Kitty's Wood and Bankfoot woods and found that, apart from some long-standing mapping issues, and some recently disappeared rights of way signposts, all of the public rights of way are open. Indeed, there are some new stiles, some of which were installed last year by Durham County Council work parties, but some seem to be courtesy of the new landowner.

There are three main user-created paths. The first is a high-level path along the Southern rim of the woodland and access to this is completely blocked, except that the barbed wire at the Easter end has been clipped.

Path baricaded by wire, fencing and cut trees (Not  currently a PROW)

The second is a path running up the centre of the wood and this is open at the eastern end but blocked at the Western end.

A third path running through the Western section of the woodland appears to be open and useable.

New fencing has been put up throughout the complex, probably at considerable cost and effort and , it would appear at first sight that litter and rubbish around the place has been cleared. The reduction in traffic seems to have had an immediate effect on the quality of the experience of the place and it suddenly seems much richer in terms of birds and flowers than it did before.

As the rights of way are open , there's no issue the be addressed, except to keep an eye on any developments. Forty or so years of  general free access to the woodland and to two of the main paths in particular is an issue, though and below is an extract from the Durham County Council website which seems to indicate a strategy for dealing with this should the citizens of Crook, Roddymoor and Billy Row decide that they want their wood back.

Definitive Map Modification Orders or claims

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 allows anyone to apply to the county council to make an order to change the Definitive Map and Statement if they believe the map is incorrect. These are called Definitive Map Modification Orders (DMMOs) and can be made if evidence is found to show that:

a route that should be shown isn’t shown

a route that is shown shouldn't be on the Definitive Map

a route is shown as having the wrong status (for example, shown as a footpath instead of bridleway)

a route is shown on the wrong line

a route should be more precisely defined (for example, have its width recorded)

this evidence may be historical (for example, old maps, tithe plans, enclosure awards) and/or user evidence, where the public have been using the route uninterrupted for more than 20 years

Kitty's Wood
What happens next? I'm not sure......   Clipping the wire may be an understandable reaction if this was done by a local, but there are legal strategies which ultimately are more likely to be successful. Direct action to clear the blockages would have to be better equipped than with just wire clippers becasue the barricades are substantial and, given the level of landowner investment in capital and in new fencing, a protracted struggle outside the legal means of Definitive Map Modification Claims might well be futile and could be deemed criminal damage.  So we'll see.....


John J said...

I would worry that in these cash-strapped times, a County Council might not be willing to fight a battle in the courts.

Keep us informed on this one please Mike, it's one of my soap-box subjects.


Mike Knipe said...

JJ - I don;t think the Council will be expending any legal fees on this one as it's not their land any more. They have to accept a claim for an amendment to the definitive map from the locals, who would have a good case as they've been using the paths for 40+ years. The Council have to make a judgement and make an order. I'm unclear as to how they do that, but I do believe that there would be a sympathetic ear. Some work with local councillors would probably be a good idea as a first shot, though.

Andrew W said...

When we lived in Helions, the new occupiers of a house, Essex girl and husband, wot ad noo monee, blocked a local path, and told an old lady,that it was no longer a right of way, but their land now.
The old lady was chair of the parish council.
Oh how they laughed when the application to re-route came in.
It is of course still a public rjght of way.
Shame about the money they spent on the fencing :)
Not really the same issue as here, but a good story.

Alan Sloman said...

An interesting one.
I can thin of a few regularly used footpaths around here that are not ROW's...
If you could let us know what happens I'd be grateful, old chap!

Steven Horner said...

Apologies Mike I never emailed over the maps and paths. I am also in the process of writing a post on the subject, myself and several others are filling out the forms from the Council. They are bad enough for me to fill out, nevermind the average person who would have no idea about grid references.

My intention is to pre-fill the forms for each path with the grid references and provide the maps and make this available from my website. Anyone can then complete their own information and history on them. It's the main topic of conversation in Roddymoor.

Most of the closed paths were waymarked and cleared several times over the years by the Council. One of them was a main path from Crook originally along what I think was known as Boiler row (the one from Whitwell Terrace), it used to even have tunnels to walk through before it was landscaped (long before my time).

Apologies again for not emailing on the details, it's been a busy week. Hopefully tomorrows post will provide the details.

Mike Knipe said...

Thanks Andrew and Alan - Steven's going to post tomorrow with yet more details (see his comment below) Looks like there's going to be a scrap over this1

Mike Knipe said...

Steven - Not to worry, I ought to register the paths I've used as well... Any spare forms..?
This is getting a lot of comment in Crook as well. I wonder what the Crook ramblers'attitude is?

Brian Cowling said...

The Definitive Map Modification Order process is a complicated (and Emotive) one, however, it is the Highway Authority's duty to deal with applications once they have been received - and there are time limits as to when they should start the process. Some highway authoritys are good at it others hopeless.

The applicant is obliged to supply certain information and is usually required to inform the landowner that a right of way is being claimed. The Highway Authority (your County Council in this case) should provide the forms to do this and is responsible for all costs after the application has been made including a public inquiry (PI) should there be one. Landowners or someone usually object if a definitive map modification order is made so if the CC does make an order, the order can only be confirmed and come into effect following a PI. That's the very basics.

The key point to prove is that there was an intention to dedicate a public right of way. Eg., If the landowner (CC) put up a stile, waymark disc etc and the public walked the route unhindered over a twenty year period then that is pretty good evidence. If signs were erected to say it was private land or barriers were put up (locked gates etc) that is evidence against. The twenty year period will most likely have ended when someone blocked the paths recently.

You cannot used the legislation to gain general access to an area. You have to define a particular route(s)/line. Evidence Forms (provided by CC) should be completed by all those who have used the route(s).

Very, very important to make a good case in the application. CCs can refuse to make an order if they are so minded. There should be nothing logical or emotional about the decision to make an order. It should be based purely on evidence.

There are many, many public rights of way in England not shown on definitive maps. The last government, to it's shame, passed legislation to make a deadline for claiming such (unmapped) rights of way. They have to be claimed by the year 2026. If not then they will be lost forever.

I've written to my MP about this - I would like the government to revoke the deadline part of the legislation. The Ramblers etc are on to it I think.

The CC is duty bound to publish a list of such orders it has made in the past - good source of information that.

Good luck with your claim. Let me know if you would like further info.


Mike Knipe said...

Thanks Brian - Useful info. I'm now just waiting for Steven's blog post. He's sent me some forms.... they don't look too onerous..

Yasmine Hamid said...

I got quite cross when I saw the blocked paths. It's not as if we have a lot of woodland in the immediate vicinity of Crook. I've only been local for a few months, but I really hope 'proper locals' fill in the forms. The tree work probably contravened something or other - you are not really supposed to cut or prune trees when birds are nesting.

Mike Knipe said...

Interesting thought about cutting the trees, Yasmin....
The locals seem to be quite miffed about this, so, I expect that there should be a fair number of forms completed. I believe Steven is helping with the grid refs etc.

This may take some time.....!

Yasmine Hamid said...

You would probably have to prove that there were birds nesting in the affected area, so maybe not an option to pursue, but who knows..?

thaismiley333 said...

Do you know who owns this property?

thaismiley333 said...

Do you know wbu now owns this property?

Mike Knipe said...

Thaismiley: This is old news now - there's seven new rights of way been established, although I believe that two fairly well-used paths were missed. I suspect that its now too late to establish any more ROW's, but the wood is mainly open to the public and there seems to be no restrictions on general wandering about. There's later blog posts about this - this one is almost four years old - and we've done Durham County Council guided walks through the woods, since then without any problems so the situation is mainly resolved. Unless you know different!