In April 2007, Hexagon Housing Association built walls alongside Bellfield Close that blocked two, decades-old, rights of way for pedestrians and cyclists (one of which the Council has described as ‘pivotal’). The walls are twice the maximum height permitted for “any gate, fence, wall or means of enclosure erected or constructed adjacent to a highway used by vehicular traffic”. However, notwithstanding complaints from local residents, clubs and traders, the Council has failed to take any enforcement action to remove the walls, even though it has confirmed that the rights of way have “not been legally diverted or stopped up”. No acceptable traffic-free diversion routes have been built (a prerequisite for any closure of the rights of way). The Safer Neighbourhood team has confirmed that the construction of the walls did not have any effect on reported anti-social behaviour on the estates.
It was not until more than a year later that the Council started to consult local residents on the future of the rights of way – still without ending their illegal obstruction. It concluded that “there is no doubt that the existing routes provide quick and easy access to a range of local services and shops and their segregation from nearby roads does offer a quieter and potentially safer journey..”. It therefore re-offered supporters of the walls (on estates crossed by the rights of way) a compromise (a new wall segregating some rights of way from the estates, a proposal which estate representatives had already rejected in 2006). These residents of the estates continue to reject any compromise.
Since the rights of way could not be lawfully closed by the Council, the local planning committee unanimously voted in April 2009 to refer the matter to the Secretary of State, as required by law for any disputed proposal for closure. However the Council continued to take no action to end the illegal obstruction pending any decision, even though a decision to divert the rights of way would still require the current rights of way to be kept open until alternative off-road foot and cycle paths had been constructed.
An informal meeting of both supporters and opponents of the walls took place last week. They again failed to find any acceptable compromise.
It remains to be seen if the Council will continue to procrastinate for yet another year.