The TRF changing the system in Surrey

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Traffic Restriction Orders being placed on popular routes that seem unnecessary and biased. A local authority decision-making process that is restrictive and difficult to affect. It’s an all too familiar story and one that South London and Surrey TRF found themselves in recently.

However, thanks to the determination of the group and a drive to ‘get on the front foot’, the story had a rather different outcome, with not only two green lanes saved, but also the council adopting a code of best practice designed to improve objectivity, impartiality and integrity of Rights of Way decision making. South London and Surrey TRF Chairman Steven Taylor explains how they did it.


How it all started – a call to ban vehicles

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.

A individual in authority with a clear agenda

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.

Attending the County Council local Committee where the petition was presented, we found out that the Officers of the Council did not consider a ban to be necessary.

The statutory Local Access Forum did not consider the ban necessary either.  Other solutions were available to be tried.   But then we saw with our own eyes, how all it took was one County Councillor to make a siren call, and the rest of the local Committee Councillors followed like sheep, voting to make the ban, without asking any questions or debate, and in the process, casting the Council officers’ professional legal advice and objections raised into the dustbin.

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.    

The TRF on the fight back

Because of the appalling way these Councillors had conducted themselves, we exercised our own democratic rights further, by raising a petition on Surrey County Council’s e-Petition platform.

A Surrey resident and TRF member, called on Surrey County Council to improve the objectivity, impartiality and integrity of decision making on Rights of Way issues, by introducing a Code of Best Practice in Rights of Way issues, similar to the Council’s Code of Best Practice in Planning Procedures.

We were successful in getting over 1000 signatures, far more than most of Surrey County Council’s petitions. In response to the petition, the Council took an undertaking the draw up a Code. The original petition by the TRF can be viewed here.

Success with a new Code of Conduct

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.

The Lesson for us all

What this shows is that if we remain silent and do nothing, the small number of people who want to remove our rights will prevail.  We would have lost Silkmore Lane and Fullers Farm road if we had not campaigned and not turned up to meetings.   

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 there is an e-Petition facility then use it, and do whatever you can to get as many people sympathetic to our cause to sign it. 

If anyone would like to find out more about how we did this, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Some final tributes

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.

Would you like to start your own e-petition? Looking for some advice? Steven Taylor is happy to help. Just drop him a message by clicking here.