>Path of at least some resistance


A few months ago I discovered that the leafy local footpath to our town centre was due to be closed because it crosses the grounds of a local secondary school and the headmaster reckoned the path was a source of crime and disorder. Quite a few others reckoned it was some of his students, who were the main source of disorder. But backed by our local county councillor, who is also a governor of the school, it was all quickly signed and sealed behind-closed-doors ‘consultation’ helped by a tailor made section of the Highways Act allowing local rights of way to be closed in the interests of preventing crime and disorder. There is with a special provision for public footpaths passing near schools to get the chop. A very New Labour mix of social authoritarianism and simple kneejerk approach to prioritizing education.

Venting my frustration, I wrote a Disgusted-of-Mid-Sussex letter to the local newspaper and when they printed it (local newspapers will print anything) and forgot about it. Some time latter got a call from the local representative of the Ramblers’ Association, who lives in a neighbouring town. At about 600 metres, the path ‘s not exactly a hiking route, but the Council in their wisdom – while not telling the locals about on, they did inform the RA as a standard bit of consultation. The key thing he tells me is keep a eye on the Official Notices section hidden away at the back of the local paper and send off a letter of objection in time when the Extinguishment Order is officially published. It finally appears in August as he anticipates- so as a few people as possible will see it – and I duly send off my letter. The RA man, out councillor on the District Council and ‘other interested local organizations’ also meet and distribute a Friends of Footpath leaflet to our and nearby streets. They will, he tells me, be a lot of objections and hopefully forcing the County Council to hold a local public enquiry. They could have spared themselves the expense, if they had

The RA man tells me that as well as the headmaster, Conservative councillors and the Director of Children’s Services are pushing to close the footpath. It is a kind of test case. The first time in the county that a footpath would have been closed under the crime and disorder clause. The Tories, he tells me are ideologically opposed to footpaths, crossing any kind of private property and instinctively like closing them. I am capable of believing pretty much anything bad about the Tories, but , in fact, I discover both the anti-footpath county councillor and the pro-footpath district councillor are actually Liberal Democrats.

All this rather reinforces my view that local politics is very much a closed game played by councillors, officials and a small cadre of worthy older people who are ‘active in the community’. Fortunately, however, there are some differences within this small pond of political participation, so it will be a while before the somewhat misnamed local Community College gets to fence itself off from the local community.

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