AGM 2013

Our AGM was held on Tuesday 16 July at the Birmingham & Midland Institute, Birmingham.

During the afternoon, we were delighted to present awards to the following winners in our Open Space Award 2013. View photographs of both these projects here.

Overall winner

Grange Area Trust for its project at Widmer Fields, Buckinghamshire

Special award for community engagement

Cobham Conservation & Heritage Trust in association with Elmbridge Borough Council for their Riverhill regeneration project

AGM presentations

Members of the society also addressed the meeting during the afternoon session.

The Equality Act and BS 5709

Shortage of time at the AGM prevented this being given as a presentation, and just a few words were said. But the slides, suitably modified, and now in photo-gallery form, are available here.

The Equality Act 2010 creates these DUTIES on public authorities in performing all their functions:

# To make reasonable adjustments so a disabled person is not disadvantaged when compared with a non-disabled person.

# To advance equality of opportunity even if it means treating some people more favourably than others.

# To foster good relations between those with a disability and those without.

Disability is defined widely.
This has impact on what can be put in path orders and on s147 permissions.

Three guidance papers (one Defra, two Pittecroft Trust) are available for download here.

Chris Beney

Coventry City Council—no duty to assert and protect?

John Hall from Coventry spoke of Coventry City Council’s poor record on rights-of-way, despite being the highway authority.

The definitive map includes 40 public rights of way inherited from Warwickshire County Council. There were 350 on the Coventry former county borough definitive map, mostly short adopted footpaths in post-war housing estates. There is a backlog of 110 definitive map claims based on documentary evidence. John suspects that there are probably about 2,950 public rights of way in Coventry but they are all at risk as they are not yet on the map.

He cited a number of paths which are neglected or abused. The Sowe Valley footpath, on land owned by the council, is being turned into a cycle track with no cycle track orders or traffic regulation orders for public safety and no public consultation. Alderman’s Green, an adopted footpath on the inclosure award, has had a missing footbridge for nearly 12 months. Black Pad, a prescriptive footpath, has been closed for sewer works with no public consultation, no notices and no diversion. Gullicksen path has been taken into a private garden and has remained obstructed for two years despite complaints from the public.

John said that the council staff had no resources and poor management. He resigned as public rights of way officer, but will be working as our local correspondent to improve the situation in Coventry.

Somerset County Council’s failure to act on public rights of way

Paul Partington, local correspondent for Taunton Deane Borough in Somerset, spoke of his tactic to get things done.

Paul has adopted the practice of using the county council’s public question time to draw attention to its deficiencies. He submits questions about rights of way to the full council meeting and then has an opportunity to speak, and the questions and replies are recorded in the council minutes. He says don’t ask a question to which you don’t know the answer. Asking questions is a good way of telling the elected members that the highway authority is not carrying out its statutory duties.

For instance, the day after our AGM, Paul asked the elected members to ensure that the county council carries out its statutory duties, he asked if the council accepts that it is wrong to accept permissive routes or unofficial diversions rather than dealing with illegal obstructions on the definitive route. He raised specific matters on particular paths, and asked if the council accepts an inaccuracy in its rights of way improvement plan. He received a written answer to each question, and these will be published in the minutes. He can then follow them up with further questions if there is no action.

Commons worldwide

Kate Ashbrook spoke of her experiences on global commons.

Commons in England and Wales are defined; they are land with an owner which is subject to rights, or waste land of the manor. Our commons and the rights on them are recorded, mapped and protected, not only the land, but the rights. The public has rights to walk on all of them and to ride on many.
Other nations are not so fortunate.

Common in a global context mean ‘shared resource’. If we start with land, commons are rarely legally defined. They are the places where indigenous populations live, and depend on for their survival, but they are not protected, mapped or recorded.
The land is being exploited—for mining, dams, irrigation schemes, afforestation, deforestation and development. It is being grabbed by governments, tribes, councils, companies, industry.

These populations are facing now what we went through during the inclosure movement. Just as then we lost millions of acres of commons and the peasant population was dispossessed, so are other nations suffering now.

At the recent conference organised in Japan by the International Association for the Study of the Commons I learnt that commons are not just land. They embrace the sea, the air, knowledge, Wikipedia, the internet, gene pools.

In fact many of the features of everyday life are commons. There is a global recognition that our commons are the original commons and other nations look to us for help. They need campaigning clout, but some find the term ‘campaign’ off-putting. I found it was better to talk about collective action.

The OSS can play an important part in helping them. We have 150 years experience of fighting for the commons and a good track-record of campaigning for commons.


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