This article is from Signpost, Winter 2012
A gating order has the effect of stopping walkers’ access to a public right of way by allowing the highway authority to erect gates across the path. The vast majority of these orders relate to the blocking off of public access across the rear of terrace properties in urban areas and are of no concern to the Society. However some gating orders have been made which affect definitive footpaths and have caused considerable hardship and inconvenience to walkers.
Before making an order the Council must be satisfied that premises next to the highway are affected by crime or anti-social behaviour (ASB) and the existence of the path facilitates the persistent commission of offences or ASB. It must be expedient to make the order taking account of the effect on the occupiers and other persons in the locality and, where the path is a through route, the availability of a convenient alternative. Though there is power to limit the hours the gating order is in operation, the general practice is for the gates to be in place 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The path does not lose its status as a public right of way as a result of the gating order and the order may be varied or revoked at a future time. However, this power is very rarely used.
Whilst Councils do consult the Society and other walking organisations, if requested, before making a gating order, the subsequent procedure is unsatisfactory and undemocratic, in that if the Council decides that the order is justified, there is no provision for independent adjudication, the Council acting as Judge and Jury. This is in contrast to powers available to a highway authority to extinguish a public footpath on the basis that it is not needed for public use, where the Council cannot confirm the order if there is opposition, the final decision being made by an independent inspector appointed by the Secretary of State.
There are dangers that pressure will be put on councillors by local residents to close a well used path by a gating order, where these persons suffer some adverse effects from its use and that there will not be a proper investigation giving due account to the public interest in maintaining the public right of way. It is essential that the Council has a written policy for dealing with requests for gating orders. This should require a detailed analysis of the incidents of crime and ASB being relied upon and how they relate to the use of the path. Counts of people using the path should be taken over several days and the convenience of any alternative route critically assessed. Consultation should take place amongst the wider community , not just those living next to the path. Rights of way staff should be consulted and the matter not solely dealt with by Community Crime staff, who often have no knowledge or experience of dealing with definitive paths. There should also be consultation with the Local Access Forum and any PROW Users Forum.
A proposed gating order of Dukinfield 27 by Tameside Council is causing the Society considerable concern. This 60m length of path joins Cheetham Hill Road and Kenyon Avenue. The shortest alternative route runs for a distance of 495 m. The path is used extensively by children and adults walking to school, the local health centre and a playing field. 398 people were observed to use the path over a 4 hour period. There is a bus stop opposite one end of the path and the path connects with Dukinfield 28 at the other end . The gating order will sever a valuable and well used link contrary to the Council’s policies to promote walking and protect PROWs. However, the Council under pressure from the four householders living next to the path and the local ward councillor, are pressing ahead with the closure. Whilst there is a significant litter problem, aggravated by the complete absence of bins, the closure of this path appears to be a disproportionate response which would not withstand detailed investigation before an independent arbiter.
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