Back in 2010 a local Parish Council led a campaign to get vehicles banned from two routes in Guildford, Surrey – Fullers Farm Road and Silkmore Lane. Members of the South London and Surrey Trail Riders Fellowship led a campaign which lasted almost two years, and were eventually successful in preventing the proposed Traffic Orders from being made, protecting our rights to use these lanes.
Whilst we were eventually successful in keeping these lanes open, it was clear to see how democratic processes could be subverted in order to appease the whim of one or two “antis” with an axe to grind.
A little digging and we discovered that the main proponent of the Traffic Regulation Order being sought to ban us, was a Parish Councillor who, surprise surprise, lived on one of the lanes in question. The County archives showed she had been writing letters about closing these route since 1989 and Parish minutes also showed how her personal vision was to turn the area around her house into a conservation area for Beatrix Potter, who visited occasionally. The minutes clearly showed the Councillor taking the lead in whipping up concern and low and behold, a petition appeared.
At that meeting our TRF representative was then publicly named by that same County Councillor, quoting the letter he had written to Councillors, shrilly insinuating that our objections didn’t count, as they were from SOMEONE WHO LIVES IN LONDON! Despite a personal reference, we were then told we had no right to speak or respond, we had to remain silent. According to the rules we were required to register to speak, before the meeting started. At a future meeting the same Councillor went on to mock the voluntary work undertaken by TRF members to help maintain the byways, with a flippant remark asking us to NOT GO REVVING OFF DOWN THE LANE AS YOU LEAVE.
Only by that point we were not going to be silenced and the uproar that followed had the other Councillors sit up and take note of our concerns, realising there were two sides to this story.
It took a bit longer than we had hoped for, but earlier this year, the Code was finally approved by the Council’s Planning and Regulatory Committee who have required that it is added to the Council’s constitution. The Code covers a range of issues in order to improve and clarify procedures in rights of way when they go to Local Committees for decisions. It covers issues such as training for Councillors on rights of way issues, lobbying of and by Councillors, attendance at public meetings, site visits, declarations and registration of interests, officers reports to Committee and how decisions should be taken.
The decision and code can be viewed here.
By working together and engaging with the democratic process, we protected our rights to use these lanes and saved them for future generations. However as well as reacting to these lane closures, South London and Surrey TRF have shown what can be done by taking a proactive step, to change the system, so that it is fairer, more impartial and more objective, thus making it that bit more difficult for the likes of GLEAM and others.
As our TRF Directors made clear to us at our recent AGM we have to do more to get onto the front foot. One way other TRF groups could do this is to look into how their local authorities go about making decisions of rights of way matters, and if there are no specific safeguards in place, advocate that they adopt a Code of Best Practice similar to Surrey’s.
If anyone would like to find out more about how we did this, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
There were many people involved in both the campaign to save these two lanes and those who signed the petition. Well done and thank you to everyone. However I wanted to pay special tribute to two individuals who did their bit, two individuals who are no longer with us.
Tom Bingham, who was (as far as I know) never associated with the TRF, but in his book The Rule of Law, argued that “Ministers and public officers at all levels must exercise the powers conferred on them in good faith, fairly, for the purpose for which the powers were conferred, without exceeding the limits of such powers and not unreasonably”. (The Rule of Law, by Tom Bingham, Penguin Books).
Steve Love, aka “Svengalie” who was a local trail rider in South East England, and who did his bit in taking our TRO campaign onto YouTube.