Barnados Footpath Action Group
Sorry for the delay in publishing this update, lot’s happening in Tadcaster at the moment…
Feb 19th 2015 – Barnados Footpath Action Group
To all our supporters
The last day for the Inquiry into reopening the ex Barnardo’s footpath between Wighill Lane and the Viaduct was held yesterday. The Barristers representing both sides presented their respective final submissions.
You will remember that this Inquiry was called by the Secretary of State (SofS) because of a single objection raised by the landowner (Wharfebank, a subsidiary of SSOB) to the order made by NYCC last year to have the footpath re-opened. The Inspector appointed by the SofS was Mr. Alan Beckett, who is a very experienced Inspector in these matters. He will now deliberate on all the evidence and legal submissions presented to him at the Inquiry. He is expected to make his decision sometime in May 2015.
This has been a huge Inquiry in terms of the evidence provided and the duration it has taken. Never before in the whole history of NYCC Rights of Way involvement with Inquiries has one taken so many days of sitting to hear all the evidence put before it. Normally Inquiries involving RofW matters are over in 3 days. This Inquiry has taken from 03 February 2015 to 18 February 2015, sitting for a total of nine days.
The Inquiry initially heard compelling evidence from a number of NYCC witnesses, all of whom had originally completed an Evidence of Use form and more recently individual witness statements. With lengthy delays to the proceedings, requested by the objector to go off and search out other evidence from various parties, this took up most of week one. Our witnesses were outstanding and spoke with conviction.
Mrs Lynch, the Care Home Superintendent’s 1962 – 1988 refused to appear on behalf of the objector but said she wanted to give evidence. The Inspector allowed her to make her statement as an independent witness and she did so with great determination and clarity. Many witnesses who had refused to sign statements sent to them by the landowners solicitors complained that they had been summoned to appear at the Inquiry. The Inspector ruled that he was the only person allowed to issue a summons for anyone to appear and he had not been involved in serving these. It was agreed the summons would therefore be disregarded and people were only to give evidence of their own free will.
The objector witnesses were heard at the beginning of week two. In all the objector fielded 11 witnesses (although at the pre-inquiry meeting they said that they would be fielding 45 witnesses). Of these, 5 were employees of SSOB, 2 were contractors, one was a local Town Councillor (who had previously voted in favour of reinstating the footpath after the new landowner blocked off the path in 2012) and three were from Barnardo’s. Only three of their witnesses said that they had used the disputed path across the land to any degree. The Barnardo’s witnesses were there in their capacity as past or present employees of the Charity. The two contractors had been asked by SSOB solicitors to make a statement and attend the Inquiry.
During cross examination many of their statements were brought into question by our Barrister and some also contained similar wording and phrasing across them. One witness had to withdraw a significant element of his statement because of his misidentification of one of our key witnesses. Another objector witness, who could not attend the Inquiry, said in his statement that he had misunderstood the position of Mrs Lynch in that she challenged people using a path across the land but now he knew this assumption not to be true. The Town Councillor’s evidence should, as our Barrister put it, ‘be treated with a high degree of caution’. He claimed that he had been turned back in 2003 (a date he remembered well) by a Security Guard whilst crossing the land, yet Barnardo’s still owned the site in 2003 and they never employed Security Guards. It felt like the objector was in many cases clutching at straws.
Whilst it is difficult to measure which way the Inspector will decide, we have heard nothing in the objector’s case which seriously undermines our case. We said from the beginning that we had a very strong case backed up by compelling evidence and that has come across at the Inquiry. Assuming, all the legal hurdles will be satisfied (and we have been helped in this regard by the Ramblers National Legal Team in London) by our Barrister’s final submission, then we are confident that the Inspector will find in our favour.
Finally, we thank you all once again for the great support you have given the Community Action Group Team, particularly those of you who gave evidence at the Inquiry. We await the Inspectors decision.
Barnados Footpath Action Group
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