The following article is a summary of the Parish Councils fight to have public access availability to the old railway track bed of the Padiham to Great Harwood loop from Footpath 11 (the track down to Dunkirk Farm) to Martholme Viaduct.
The text below is based on a summary of a letter sent to Nigel Evans MP in 2011.
Following the suspension of train services along the Padiham-Great Harwood railway line in 1957 and final closure in 1964 the 800 metre length of disused track between Footpath 11 (Dunkirk Farm Lane) and the Martholme viaduct was used by local ramblers, cyclists and residents of Read and Great Harwood as a valuable link between the north side of the Calder from Read, Padiham and Simonstone to the Hyndburn side of the River Calder.
The southern part of Bridge Hey Wood below the disused railway evolved from what was a small group of riverside weekend cabins in the 1950’s to the substantial static and touring caravan site which it has become today.
In the 1970’s the 800 metres of disused railway was purchased by Mrs Hanson Snr. The owner of Dunkirk Farm and the caravan site. Some years after the purchase a sign was erected stating that the land was private with no right of way. For around 15 years prior to this the path had been used without let or hindrance. During this period the track at the Hyndburn side of the viaduct was developed and incorporated into the Lancashire Cycleway with the aid of regeneration grants from the EEC.
It was not until the foot and mouth outbreak of 2000/2001 that the landowner blocked access to the old track and LCC erected a fence at the Hyndburn end of the viaduct thereby denying public access to the link.
In 2004 Mr Willans of Great Harwood made an official application to LCC to have the footpath re-opened and included in the definitive map. He was supported by Read Parish Council and eleven completed forms of evidence from past users were submitted to the regulatory committee (Lancashire County Council). Despite this the application was refused. The committee appeared to accept the evidence put forward by the landowners that he had erected signs and made clear over the years that it was not a right of way. The committee also appeared to justify refusal on the grounds that the old railway was to be included in the REMADE project funded by LRDC to create a greenway (cycle way) from Rosegrove to Great Harwood.
Presumably because LCC anticipated difficulties with acquisition of land at the west end of the line which was mostly in private ownership, construction of the Greenway commenced at Rosegrove. Read Parish Council, from the outset had consistently asked for prioritisation of the Martholme link due to its strategic importance. Sadly our requests for prioritisation went unheeded and 2010 the LRDA was wound up as no more funds were available to complete the project.
In early 2011 Read Parish Council, with the support of Simonstone Parish Council, Padiham Town Council, Great Harwood Town Council, Great Harwood Regeneration Partnership Board, Harwood Bar Residents Association and the NE Lancashire and Hyndburn Ramblers Association requested that LCC use their powers under the Highways Act to obtain a public footpath creation order for the Martholme link. There is provision in the Act for reasonable compensation to be paid to landowners affected by creation orders. Jo Turton (LCC Executive Director for the Environment) and Roy Halliday of the RAMADE project initially agreed to recommend to the CC that this be done.
Sadly in June 2011 we received a letter from Jo Turton stating that after careful consideration she had decided against our request. Her letter contained some erroneous and questionable statements.
The footpath passes alongside the Caravan Park, not through it as stated in her letter. The northern part of Bridge Hey Wood is not owned by the Hanson family. There is a substantial wall and embankment between the old railway and the caravan park.
The landowners assertions that the path creation would cause a loss of tenants and that his business and the local economy would be affected appear to have been accepted without question. The statement that two other landowners were involved and 1,600 metres of track would need to be constructed was based on the erroneous assumption that the order should include track to the east of Dunkirk Farm Lane. The 800 metres of old track to the Viaduct is intact and would require little work to bring it into use.
Representatives of Read Parish Council accepted Jo Turton’s offer to discuss the decision with her, and attended a meeting on 27 June 2011 with her assistant Mr Andrew Mullaney and Roy Halliday and David Goode of the Environment Directorate. Jo Turton was not able to attend.
It became apparent at this meeting that the acceptance of the landowner’s assertions regarding the effects on his business, and the level of possible compensation and litigation costs appeared to be the main reason for refusal of our request. They suggested that if we could reach an agreement with the landowner under Section 30 of the Highway Code to create a concessionary path they would facilitate the opening of the viaduct.
Mr & Mrs Hanson, the landowners, attended our parish council meeting on the 3 August 2011 and were asked if they would be prepared to open the path on this basis for a trial period to assess any effects on their business. It was pointed out to them the benefits that would be afforded to the many organisations and individuals who had supported our request and that some of their caravan site tenants had indicated to past members of the Parish Council that they would welcome access to and across the viaduct. Despite this they were adamant that their site was marketed as secluded and that the path would lead to disturbance of their tenants privacy.
To address these objections we would point out that Public Footpath 11 passes down the farm lane alongside the site. The use of the old railway as a path and cycleway without hindrance from the late 1950’s did not prevent the site progressing from a few riverside weekend cabins to the large site which it has become today. Access from the path to the site could be made secure and any tenants who felt the path intrusive could surely be replaced by potential new tenants who would welcome access to the Lancashire Cycleway and paths across the viaduct. Many sites throughout the country use cycleway and footpath access as a selling point.
The above points would surely be taken into consideration when any compensation due to the landowner was considered.
Read Parish Council feel that the objections of one landowner, which have not been held up to reasonable scrutiny are standing in the way of the legitimate aspirations of a large section of the community and preventing the re-establishment of an amenity of immense value. A request to Jo Turton to review her decision in light of our observations met with a polite refusal citing the financial risks involved.