Steve Hird, Inspector, Rotherham and Wakefield
This article is from Signpost 68, Summer 2021
I was interested to read Terry Norris’s piece in the last issue of Signpost, in which he talks of receiving notices of those planning applications which potentially affect public rights of way. ‘Without sight of these Article 15 notices it is very difficult to ascertain which planning applications might affect public rights of way’, says Terry. There is a potential discrepancy here in that planning officers and footpath users might have different ideas on this. In Rotherham we have gone a step further, thanks to the good relations that exist between council officials and the Local Access Forum.
In my capacity as a member of the Rotherham LAF I receive, from the Council, their weekly lists of all planning applications (and decisions) - not just those the Council deem to be of interest - as a result of an arrangement between the Council and the LAF made seven or eight years ago, to monitor all planning applications and sift out those which may have relevance, thus helping an under-resourced council department to get its work done. These lists go to all councillors, parish councillors, relevant council officers, and representatives of various interested bodies and stakeholders, but only I routinely monitor them.
Very few of the applications have any implications for rights of way. Of those that do, I go on the link to the location map which is included with all applications, and compare what this map shows of the ROW in question with the evidence shown on my large scale OS map. Then I report my findings and concerns to a named officer in the Council’s Rights of Way team, and forward my reports also to other interested parties such as the Ramblers and our own John Harker. I know that OS maps are occasionally not totally accurate or up to date, but the officer will then be able to compare with the Definitive Map if necessary. Nil returns are also sent back, which account for probably 90% of all weekly lists, a figure that seems to reflect a trend more apparent since the onset of the Covid 19 pandemic. Most applications now are for house extensions or garage conversions and suchlike, but occasionally a developer will submit a plan for a housing development which impacts on an existing footpath or bridleway, or an industrial expansion or new road likewise.
The work is pleasurable and interesting, it doesn’t take long (sometimes only a few minutes), it makes a difference to the future of rights of way in Rotherham, and helps to maintain good relations between rights of way users and the Council. It’s a good example of partnership working, and it works well. Perhaps PNFS members in other local authorities may be able to follow suit?
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