Firstly, a huge thanks to all our supporters for the time and effort they have put in over the last year to raise our profile and make us a strong organisation to represent the voices of those who love the Peak District.
On 2 December 2015, Peak District MTB met with Derbyshire County Council (DCC) to discuss the work on Rushup Edge and other works in the Peak District. Ride Sheffield, Keeper of the Peak, the British Mountaineering Council (BMC) and Friends of the Peak (FOTP) District were also in the meeting to discuss the issue at hand. At the time we provided a brief update on the meeting, since then PDMTB has had chance to put together this, a more detailed report. Also included is a report from the site meeting which was requested subsequently to the main meeting with DCC. The site meeting happened on Tuesday 16th December and also included Ride Sheffield and FOTP. DCC has requested that the user groups provide a formal response to their proposed work on Rushup Edge / Chapel Gate by the 16th of January 2015. PDMTB will put forward its own response along with other groups. We hope there will be a lot of constructive comments. Until then we believe all work on Rushup Edge is on hold.
It’s a long and detailed report so here’s an ‘Executive Summary’, if you want to read the full report and site visit update, please click the ‘read more’ link.
Following the meeting and site visit PDMTB has concluded the following:
1) Derbyshire County Council’s current plans for Rushup Edge have been barely modified and remain unacceptable to the vast majority of users of the Peak District.
2) Derbyshire County Council has failed to provide adequate justification for the works proposed.
3) Derbyshire County Council has a poor understanding of the needs of this trail as evidenced by their lack of research into user groups and their needs.
4) Derbyshire County Council cannot forecast any increased usage after the work and has not evidenced this after previous work on other routes.,
5) Derbyshire County Council has no consideration of the sustainability, long term environmental and economic impact of the proposed work.
6) Derbyshire County Council is unable determine the cost of the work or commit to any form of maintenance in the future:
“We don’t know how much a project is going to cost until we have finished it”
7) Derbyshire County Council has a history of inadequate consultation and reflection of user groups’ views in similar works. We are yet to be convinced that they have learnt their lessons.
PDMTB’s proposed response to Derbyshire County Council’s proposals for Rushup Edge:
We demand that DCC:
1) remove all materials that have been placed on the route and return it to its original state.
2) that all maintenance is as sensitive, minimal and sustainable as possible and we believe that can be achieved in a cost efficient manner.
3) if maintenance is unavoidable, we request the current materials are removed and replace with a planned and designed stone setting approach to reasonably accommodate all amenity users as has been achieved on a nearby route.
4) should the larger steps be removed we request smaller steps remain and that solid bedrock is left intact and visible remaining consistent with the nature of the trail.
What did we say to DCC?
Having listened to your comments through email, tweet and survey responses we went into the meeting with three distinct aims:
1) A cessation to all rights of way maintenance within the Peak District National Park from December 2 2014 (the day of the meeting)
2) A cross interest group panel to be established that works with Derbyshire County Council to deliver a design and material specification that works for all user groups
3) A plan of works that is agreed and that fits the criteria above
Of the three aims, we came away thinking just one had been met. DCC did reluctantly agree to hearing representations from a cross interest group. They were strenuous in their claims that the Local Access Forum (LAF) was that vehicle that should be used. However, it was clearly stated by all parties represented at the meeting that, in this case, the LAF had failed to work effectively because DCC had failed to respond to the LAF’s requests for detailed information. The ball was firmly placed in our court as to how we may be able to facilitate better consultation with all of the user groups involved without increasing the burden of meetings, reports and administration. We’ll look at that in more depth later.
DCC’s plans for Rushup Edge.
But, for balance we should state DCC’s starting point.
The DCC attendees (Rights of Way Officer Peter White, Director for Transport and Environment Allison Thomas, and Assistant Head of Countryside, Richard Bonner) had some very basic and not entirely concrete arguments for the extent and nature of work undertaken on Long Causeway and work intended t on Rushup Edge.
As a starter, and seemingly to deflate any argument we had, Peter White presented us with a ‘revised’ plan for Rushup Edge showing how DCC had listened to the objections and made changes to their original intended works. The plans – available on our website (link) – show that DCC has chosen to leave some bedrock exposed but still level the steps. The revised plan also shows that there will be some stone picking undertaken along the trail to remove loose rock. These are a small revisions and raise more issues than they solve. Our engineer’s report, as shown in the rebuttal document, suggests that to leave impermeable rock ‘dovetailed’ with a rock/aggregate fill will simply result in water run off and washout, which will need constant regular maintenance on an ongoing basis.
How much will it costs and what is planned for future maintenance?
Which brings us to our next point: costs and maintenance.
A question raised not only by Peak District MTB and Ride Sheffield, but also clearly by the BMC, was around how DCC plans to maintain the trails once they have been resurfaced. It was agreed by all that the work on the Roych Pennine Bridleway (held up as an efficient and sensitive approach to repairs in the area), which has received universal support, would need little maintenance for many years. It was suggested by us that the work proposed on Rushup would need considerable maintenance in the short term. Our evidence? The current state of Chapel Gate. So how much was this maintenance going to cost?
DCC could not provide an answer. In fact, Peter White stated, “We don’t know how much a project is going to cost until we have finished it”.
This raises a point of major concern: DCC enters into rights of way works without knowing the costs involved. This is despite it being clearly established by our campaign that the public have major concerns about the cost of these works. Without accurate costs it seems impossible for the public (via the LAF) to have their say on how their taxes are being spent.
Derbyshire County Council has no forecast (or commitment) for maintenance and has no understanding of when or how much maintenance will be required. When we suggested that the plans would result in necessary maintenance in the short term – citing Chapel Gate once more – Peter White suggested that there is an inherent ‘risk’ in doing any kind of work on rights of way; an interesting position and one which we will come back to.
Regarding costs we questioned the DCC team on why DCC was spending money resurfacing a high moorland trail when there must be many other, more important, things to spend money on in the county and on its rights of way. While this was admittedly a naïve question, it did reveal that this kind of work is entirely capital funded, funds that are specifically earmarked for this kind of work; but that it is also a one off ‘pot’ which, once gone, is gone for that project or financial year. Our questioning also revealed that the entire pot for this type of work could be exhausted within three years. In theory, DCC won’t be able to work any more trails like this after that time. The next two routes earmarked for work are – Hurst clough and Bamford Clough – but Peter White was unsure whether they would have sufficient funds to complete both.
What are the legal aspects of this work?
DCC argued the point of protection against Section 56 orders most emphatically.
A Section 56 order, when served upon a council basically means that the council has an obligation to return a highway to a good state of repair. Just one complaint can instigate this process and as such, DCC argued that in order to prevent costly trips to court and potential litigation, they have an obligation to fix all highways on an ongoing basis. DCC wouldn’t confirm whether a Section 56 order had been made on Chapel Gate/Rushup Edge and we have not been able to confirm this independently. “Even if it had, we couldn’t tell you by whom”, they argued citing Data Protection, precisely because it is an individual. Whether this is indeed the case we don’t know, but it seems strange that a complaint made to a public authority, about public spending, through public courts should be anonymous and we can’t find anything in the legislation which states that this should be the case.
We also asked DCC to tell us the average cost of dealing/not adequately dealing with Section 56 orders they had received in the past compared to the costs involved in pre-emptively surfacing all potentially at risk highways. DCC couldn’t or wouldn’t answer this question.
When we suggested that users of paths such like Rushup Edge were far less likely to issue a Section 56 order than say, a driver on a potholed Matlock street, and that a ‘healthy dollop of common sense’ should be applied to these decisions once again DCC had no answer. They did revert to their previously stated “legal obligation to maintain the highway to a suitable standard”. When we questioned as to why every council in England isn’t following the DCC approach as opposed to simply managing the risk, Derbyshire County Council couldn’t answer. We pushed DCC on why it was not applying the same risk based approach to the likelihood of a Section 56 as it was on the chances of works being simply washed away and once again the team couldn’t answer.
What about consultation?
Our next line of query was on consultation and users.
DCC has no legal obligation to consult with mountain bikers with regards to rights of way. There are a number of groups and bodies that it is required to consult as a statutory requirement, but this does not extend to cyclists. However, in this case they had failed to consult even the Peak District National Park (the body that is responsible for management of the Peak District). DCC did express that it was the overwhelming response that it had received through email and social media, alongside some press and media attention that had caused it to realise that mountain bikers are a sizeable and important group whose voices should be heard. This change was achieved thanks to the effort of each of the groups involved, supported by their ever growing memberships and their respective members’ activity on social media – increased followers, tweets, web posts etc.
We had already produced evidence to support the assertion that DCC had failed to consult adequately. Peter White and Allison Thomas both apologised and admitted that they had failed to listen to the views of appropriate user groups.
We pushed them to reveal what consultation they had done and they told us that their consultation had been limited to the local access forum (LAF). As has been clearly identified the LAF requested additional information from DCC on the works proposed, DCC failed to respond and commenced work. When asked if DCC had measured the types and volumes of users groups using Rushup Edge / Chapel Gate prior to work commencing they revealed they hadn’t. When asked if there was any research into the expected increase in usage from specific user groups, and possible decrease in usage from others, the response was that DCC had no information to support the works.
When asked if DCC intended to measure who was using the trail after the work was completed in order to justify the expense, again the response was negative. We therefore established that there was no previous, current or future attempts by DCC to establish the types, volmes and requirements of users of these high moorland trails. In fact, the only research done on this matter what the survey we conducted in November.
What does this mean? It means that another of DCC’s core arguments; that they: “Wish to broaden the access and increase users on the path” could not possibly be quantified or proven a success. It also means that DCC may be dogmatically following a course of action based upon a single premise without any thought to the consequences of the action.
Who is being consulted on these issues?
After the meeting we returned to this issue of user group consultation, emailing DCC and asking for the definitive list of user groups considered when deciding to undertake the work, Peter White stated that : “There is no definitive list.”
Which begs the question of how any route can be maintained to accommodate the widest possible number of user groups if that number is not defined. In order to try and ascertain who had been in receipt of the revised plans for Rushup Edge / Chapel Gate we were advised that this list of user groups received a copy of the plans and will feed back into DCC:
Peak Horse Power
British Horse Society (Derbyshire)
Ramblers Association (Derbyshire)
Peak District Local Access Forum
Peak District National Park Authority
Peak and Northern Footpaths Society
Disabled Ramblers Association
Chapel en le Frith Parish Council
Edale Parish Council
Friends of the Peak
Peak District MTB
British Driving Society
County Cllr Jocelyn Street (Local Member)
Open Spaces Society
Alison Thomas did raise an alarming point when we discussed the subject of open consultation, her point was that she has attended such meetings and heard the opinions and the general consensus view. She then explained that she had been approached after the event by a single individual wishing to express their disagreement to the conclusion reached by the meeting but that they were afraid to speak out in the meeting and that, despite the consensus agreed by the meeting, the individual speaking one to one with a DCC officer would have equal weight. The implication is that any decision agreed upon in a meeting can be subverted by an individual seeking to exert influence on a one to one basis.
What about the environmental impact?
Finally, environmental questions.
DCC was again on the back foot, though were at pains to state that the materials to be used on the path are not limestone. We conceded that we had made a mistake on this, but argued that there would still be detrimental impact as a result of the works because the materials differ in colour and appearance to Dark Peak gritstone. The materials that are to be used on Rushup Edge / Chapel Gate will be Yorkshire Gritstone.
The ‘lagoon’ (an eroded, sunken pool on the original right of way) on the flat moorland section between Chapel Gate and Rushup Edge was also discussed. BMC raised concerns that work to repair the lagoon and definitive path would have a detrimental effect on the surrounding area during the work. DCC assured us that they will be sensitive to the moorland on the ‘top’ section. It was more difficult for them to answer the question of how much they had consulted Natural England. At the time of the meeting they hadn’t. And, as the top section is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), they really should have. This was also something they were intending to “do better”.
The meeting was at times good natured, at times heated. There was a clear level of distrust of DCC and their motives on our part and the team from DCC was clearly irritated to have been forced to meet with us. The rebuttal document and survey [link] we presented to them was dismissed as biased to mountain bikers’ views, unfairly ignoring the support it had from Friends of the Peak, the BMC and the many, many walkers, horse riders, runners and others who had responded to our call for support.
Do we feel we succeeded? Yes and no. We did get DCC in a room to listen to us. We did get DCC to change their plans. We did get DCC to commit to proper consultation in future. But did we succeed on Rushup Edge? Well, the conclusion to that is more mixed. The final test of their integrity and intent will be evidenced in how they conduct themselves in future, if they deliver the revised plan as circulated, undertake increased and effective consultation that actually considers the points being raised, and that they act accordingly.
UPDATE: Site Meeting with Derbyshire County Council, Friends of the Peak District and Ride Sheffield.
On the 16th December we had a meeting on site with Peter White, Rights of Way Officer for DCC to walk the route and fully understand the proposed works on the ground. We are very disappointed to report that we found DCC changing the platform of its argument once more and muddying the waters of cost.
When we met with DCC back in Marsh 2014 we were told in no uncertain terms that one key driver of the upgrades to the byway network was to facilitate the use of horse drawn carriages. It seems that having stated in the initial meeting that this was a user group that would benefit Peter White admitted that DCC had not been able to identify such a user group, the axis of the argument had shifted to “accessibility for all”. With this in mind, Rushup Edge / Chapel Gate would be made level to accommodate wheeled transport that required a reasonably level surface. To gain an understanding of how level this was to be we asked if an indentation in the bedrock about half a metre square and around 15cm deep would remain we were told that it would be dug out and filled. We were also advised that the expanses of sloping bedrock would be covered if they were deemed to present any sort of risk of a steel shod horse slipping and injuring itself. The obvious driver here was the fear of liability.
We discussed the options of stone setting as carried out on the Roych but we were advised that the costs of the work undertaken on the Roych was an order of magnitude greater than that being spent of Rushup Edge / Chapel Gate and for that reason it is unlikely that it would be considered. It is our belief that this is a deliberate case of misinformation, conflating costs for the entire project rather than the specific upper section to which we were referring in order to deter any further comparison.
We made a few suggestions to Peter White which included the possibility of a split trail, that would have half smoothed and half left stepped. To accommodate any carriage drivers wanting to use the route we suggested that DCC may like to consider smoothing the edges but leaving the steps intact in the centre of the route.
However, DCC seems to be standing firm on the point of “access for all” but when asked to specifically define what that term meant Peter was unable to respond with a coherent answer. We raised the issue of extent of works required to make the route completely accessible. It is clear that this route is an isolated path, exposed to the elements and with no accessible parking, gates, facilities or routes off the moorland and this plan will do little to improve access. DCC seems to be simply paying lip service to what is an important issue. As usual DCC takes a reactionary approach and showed it’s clear lack of understanding of its user groups: gates would only be upgraded when DCC was challenged to do so, and Peter suggested that there was sufficient parking (we would agree, but only at Mam Nick car park which would then require navigating a steep road, and an even more remote bridleway with no access from Chapel gate) amenities were ignored, as was the issue of any consideration of gradient, the size and depth of drainage bars used on the Edale section of Chapel Gate and the ease with which they may be navigated. If “access for all” is the driver for DCC rather than just a convenient new justification for poorly researched, designed and delivered maintenance then it fails on that count too.
The meeting concluded leaving a very disconsolate representation from Ride Sheffield, Friends of the Peak and PDMTB.