Derbyshire County Council meeting report

Earlier this month we met with a number of the highways and rights of way (RoW) team at Derbyshire County Council (DCC) with the intention of trying to understand how they operate and to answer a number of questions we wanted to ask. We have listed the questions and the answers in the link below, but before that a few simple facts that may inform the reader:
• The highways authority has responsibility for ALL rights of way from highways to footpaths
• The Peak District National Park had the opportunity to become the highways authority within the national park but chose not to, thereby handing this responsibility to DCC
• The Derbyshire County Council Highways dept is responsible for all rights of way across the county of Derbyshire within the national park
• Derbyshire County Council (DCC) carries all liabilities for rights of way; this includes their upkeep and the legal consequences of their degradation
• Repairs to rights of way are not all carried out by contractors to DCC and, although anyone working on a right of way should consult with DCC, they often do not and repairs may be completed by landowners or other parties.

Derbyshire County Council Meeting: Questions & Answers

Q. What is the trigger and the process that results in the resurfacing of trails with road scalpings, aggregates or other materials?
A. DCC may receive multiple complaints for a route stating that it’s difficult to use for particular user groups. This could be horse riders struggling on a route, pedestrians having difficulty, the trail could be flooded, muddy or just boulder strewn and difficult to pass. The large ruts caused by some 4×4 vehicles can demolish walls because the ruts go below the level of foundation of the enclosing walls, leading to collapse.

In some situations DCC receives multiple complaints; after that there are situations where a single complaint will trigger maintenance and that is where somebody serves DCC with what is known as a Section 56 Notice (explanation here: People serve a Section 56 notice on DCC for a variety of reasons e.g land disputes and access rights.

DCC lost a case two or three years ago when a bridleway had a pothole. The Court said the highway was in disrepair and DCC argued they had no duty at the time to repair it for cyclists. The Judge – a cyclist – ruled against them. It cost DCC approximately £10K in legal expenses and the repairs were over £6K on top of that. Scheduled maintenance is significantly cheaper.

Q. What is the rationale for using the road scalpings as a resurfacing material and how do the costs compare to undertaking something similar to the Roych?
A. It’s a recycled material and relatively freely available for DCC, but there are there are other reasons for using it above simple availability. DCC does not want to be ripping the National Park to pieces by using materials that are freshly quarried, especially with quarries now closing. Sometimes DCC have to bring planings in from other areas.

DCC believe road planings are an ideal surface for horse riders. With regard to cyclists we believe that the loose surface can result in higher speeds, lower traction and potentially less control. Combining this situation with some of the sizeable water bars we’ve seen appearing, we felt it important to discuss these potential hazards with DCC. Their suggested solution to this problem was to bind the surface with tar (they have history of this) and install warning signs.

In sensitive areas DCC has brought other materials into the park. For example on Long Causeway on Stanage DCC went to the effort of finding matching materials and those materials came down from Huddersfield; there’s a bit of a carbon footprint attached to repairing Long Causeway in terms of getting the right type of material.

The Green Lane programme running at the moment is a very small sum of money that is for scheduled repairs to some of these routes. The budget is £140,000 per year for 5 years for the whole of the county. They are coming into year 3 with no guarantees that funding will extend beyond that. In the event DCC receives the threat of Section 56 notices, it can move money to one side to deal with it. DCC Highways has taken a £2 million hit for 2014/15 from its budget, with a further £50K hit off its revenue budget for this year, amounting to £100K over two years. That a 36% cut in maintenance budgets for all rights of way, across the entire county, for the forthcoming financial year.

DCC has to create pockets of money to be able to deal with these contingencies and scheduled maintenance of these routes is a lower risk way of dealing with it.

The work on the Roych received additional funding due to being on a National Cycle Route and there is insufficient funding to approach all rights of way maintenance in the same manner. Combined with a litigious society and a nervous county council the rationale for the resurfacing works is clear if not what we wanted to hear. If budget allowed, they would repair all ROWs instead of the (relatively) limited scope of this current phase of works.

Q. What can we, as a growing membership organisation, do to help / advise / influence any decisions?
A. The programme of work for 2013/14 is defined so we can have no further influence on the plans. For 2014/15 we do have some scope. If we can identify any specific locations that are valuable to mountain bikers and ones on which we want to work with DCC, they are prepared to try and use it as an experimental case to engage with mountain bikers through the appropriate channels. However, DCC does not think this forthcoming year will provide any opportunity to get into that dialogue and get anything achieved but it is happy to share the list of works when finally completed and then to discuss it with the National Park Authority.

Q. How can we share our ideas re linking up routes to relieve pressure on existing areas?
A. Derbyshire CC were very keen to hear of bridleways that were not linked up and were surprised that they did not know about the list of 30 or so we had collated, but also suggested they may know but have simply not done anything about it. This is a good opportunity to pursue.

They also encouraged us to engage directly with Peak District National Park and National Trust with a view to creating new routes on some of their land-holdings.

Q. Could we engage with DCC by fund-raising or providing volunteers?
A. If we can identify specific trails that we’d like repaired more sympathetically for mountain bikers, DCC are willing to put any funds raised towards those works. DCC will share the list of proposed works for 2014/15 at which point we can decide which trails should be targeted for special treatment i.e. experimenting with different trail maintenance techniques to preserve the types of feature that we enjoy riding.DCC were also more than happy to accommodate volunteer groups for trail maintenance and gave us some key contacts to discuss this with.

Q. Hope Valley Link – the missed opportunity with Phase I and can we have better engagement for Phase II onwards?
A. Simply put, yes. DCC want and need guidance on who they should be consulting with and we will provide that list. Feel free to let us know of any key contacts or groups who you think should be engaged in this consultancy. In the meantime we continue to have good discussions with DCC on this topic whilst phase 1 (Hathersage to Bamford) gets wrapped up any time now.

Q. What is DCCs bigger plan, for the whole county area within PDNP, if there is one, and can we have sight of a more detailed plan – with ideas of time-scales etc?
A. There is a lof of information published that is difficult to find, piece together and summarise; DCC didn’t disagree. The list for next year’s green lane action plan is not yet finalised but will be published on the website (it is, after all, public information). We will stay close to DCC to make sure we get this and other pertinent information circulated rather than keeping it hidden away, since this is the list we have the potential to influence.

In summary it was admittedly disappointing that the current programme of maintenance works for this year is a fait accompli, but encouraging that DCC are willing to engage with us on the works not yet finalised. Peter White himself said there is plenty of time and energy to engage with us from here on in. The doors are open…

2 April 2014