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Friday, October 31, 2014

Minutes of off-roader meeting at the Town Hall

SOPS, the action group formed to address what it claims is off-roader abuse in the countryside close to Llangollen, has asked llanblogger to publish its official minutes for the public meeting it held in the Town Hall earlier this month.   

It must be stressed that the wording of the minutes is that of SOPS and not llanblogger.
Llangollen Community Meeting Re Off-Roader Abuse
Called by The Save Our Paths Lobby Group on   2nd October   2014 
SOPS Minutes
Chair Tony Betts
Present: Committee
Shirley Marriott, , Edwina L Hart, Jaqui Garratt, Julie Fergusson, Sian Glynne-Jones, Andy Beech, Jan Deeprose. Clare Bryan.  Absent, Sally Clark . 
Invited Dignitaries
MP Susan Elan Jones, AM Ken Skates, Mabon ap Gwynfor (Representing Plaid), AM Aled Roberts, NW Police, Chief Inspector Gareth Jones,
NW Traffic Police, Wrexham Streetscene Officer,  Councillor Stuart Davies (DCC),  Dr.Jean Rosenfeld (Chair of all Wales Local Access Forums),     Diana Mallinson (Researcher, Yorkshire Dales Green Lane Alliance (YDGLA) and Peak District Green Lane Alliance(PDGLA)). Arfon Hughes (Natural Resources Wales). Portia Kennaway. Rhun Jones (Countryside Warden DCC).
1] E.L.Hart opened the meeting by thanking all those attending and setting out the reasons why the meeting had been called. She high-lighted multiple negative impacts suffered by local residents as a result of intensive activity by off-road vehicles. She commended the support received from the Police and the Town Council with reference to this problem. Although vague promises had been received from Denbighshire County Council (DCC) regarding noise pollution, no action has been taken, and the head of DCC Highways Department informed her that he would not be sending an officer to the meeting as it was his intention to hold a ‘closed meeting’ within DCC with invited interest groups and politicians. The meeting tonight hopefully brings together  off-road users and all those who have an interest in protecting the local environment from unsustainable use.  Comments were then invited from those attending.
2] Councillor S. Davies pointed out the distinction between legitimate legal use of un-metalled public roads by motorised vehicles  and illegal actions by of persons using motorised vehicles off public highways.
3] Llandegla (Rider) The issue is what does the most harm?  Little impact by walkers/riders/cyclists. 4x4s have a negative impact.
4] Steve Austin of Trail Riders UK stated that he estimated that his clients had spent £250,000 in the Llangollen area over the last three years, and that his guided parties only use legal tracks, showing respect for other users they encounter.
5] Andy, posed the question...Why can’t I use the Allt-y-Badi Highway ?, because it has been so damaged by motorised use as to make it too dangerous for walkers and other users. The environmental impact of use by motorised vehicles is not sustainable.
6] Ceiriog Valley resident: observed that Trail bikes go onto bridleways and footpaths.
7] Cllr.Stuart Davies: stated that in his opinion the condition of Badi has always been the same. It is a highway. To close a highway causes problems, DCC does it by the book (IE. work within the law) and to close this road would cost £150,000. Off-roaders would take it to the High court. DCC cannot tarmac it as the cost would probably be in excess of in excess of £1,000,000. Regarding illegal use, DCC cannot enforce the law, the police do this. DCC have used TRACKERS on tracks to count horses/walkers/vehicles.
8] Diana Mallinson (YDGLA) spoke about Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs), (which can be used to limit the type of traffic permitted to use a road made subject to an order). She explained that County Councils have had the power to use them since the 1930s. and that there are 6 grounds  (and 2 extra if the road is in an AONB) on which an order can be established Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority has 10 TROs in place. Why can’t Denbighshire not do the same?
9]Portia Kennaway, stated that many residents are affected by misuse of tracks. Noise levels are causing problems, Farmers cannot graze stock safely due to fences being cut. She made an impassioned plea for the environment, stating that illegal off-road users on the high moors surrounding Llangollen were threatening the survival of ground nesting birds
 None of this is fair.
10]Phil Jones, Pengwern Vale resident, asked how it could be that in a time when libraries and leisure centres were under threat of closure for want of money, that DCC would not consider the closure of a road which it did not have the funds to maintain? He asked Cllr. Davies to call for a report from DCC's legal officer into 'best practice' adopted by other councils in securing cost-effective TRO's elsewhere in the UK.
11]Brad Jones, (Llangollen + District Motorcycle Club), stated that the  Badi is a Highway. It has always been in bad condition. Club member’s bikes are not noisy. Using these tracks brings in tourists.
12] Matt Ellison, Stated that because of increases of bike numbers on Badi, he can no longer walk up there with his kids. It is not safe for all users. It is an accident waiting to happen.
13] Biker, when farmers chain gates people will cut fences.
14] Abuse Incident,  Person  using a footpath with difficulty because of deep single rut in path.  A Biker from Newcastle said when accosted, he was doing his best to rip up the track.
15] Rhun Jones, (DCC Countryside Officer), stated that we need to differentiate between legal and illegal use. Problems are on the increase. Meetings are taking place to discuss the problems.   The Trail Riders Federation has been volunteering to unblock drains.
16] Dylan Jones, (Wrexham CBC Highways). endorsed the previous comment regarding legal and illegal usage. If in a hot spot, work with police. His budget is shrinking month by month they are struggling to maintain “normal” roads. Classified network is crumbling! This is a national problem. Banning 4x4s from these tracks would need legislation. A TRO would apply blanket closure which would affect farmers also.
17] Janet Williams (British Driving Society. BDS), stated that The Wayfarer’s Track damage makes it too dangerous for horse drawn carriages. The Forestry Commission has closed tracks because of off-roader trespass and as a result Carriages are banned too.
18] Susan Elan Jones, wants to hear from YDGLA to find out how they are achieving progress in their area. She stated that noise through the night is not acceptable. Although the meeting was advised that the DCC Highways Officer was on leave, she questioned why DCC didn't send another officer from the Highways Department? Put a speed limit of 5 or 10 mph for Bikes. 4x4s restricted to 12mph. No separation for walkers on the Gwernant road.
20]  Steve Harris (Tread Lightly), 4x4 driver, explained that drivers had been asked NOT to use the Badi because of erosion. Tread Lightly will  try to repair 4x4 damage.
21] An opinion was expressed that because English Counties were bringing in regulation to limit off-roader abuse of un-metalled roads, more 4x4’s and motor-bikers are coming to Wales.
23] Wrexham 4x4 driver “The Badi should be closed it is a death trap”
24] Chief Inspector Gareth Jones, stated that a Police Officer has been out to “see” the illegal damage caused by off-roaders.
All vehicles checked on the Badi have been found to be road legal. It is a large area to police, when farmers report incidents the culprits have long gone.
25] Andy, we get good support from the N W Police.
26] A person stated that the owner of land by the Wayfarer's Track  was told there has never been a successful prosecution by the Police. Also on the Wayfarer's lots of litter, damage and illegal trespass is occurring.
28] Cllr. S. Davies, stated that he would be attending the up-coming ‘closed meeting’ to be held by DCC.  and that he has  to go before Council and ask for funds to sort these issues out. (Leisure Centres are run at a profit by DCC.)
29] Dr. Jean Rosenfeld (Chair of All Wales LAF);  the issue is being 'ducked' at a strategic level.  AMs need to discuss these issues nationally. We all have a right to access the countryside. We all have a duty to do no harm.
30] Diana Mallinson: contradicted the comment made by WCBC highways officer and said that TROs can be selective, Emergency vehicles and Local Authority vehicles can have access to TRO regulated routes.
 The Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 made it difficult to upgrade Bridleways and footpaths to BOATs on the basis of historic use by horse and cart.  But  many green lanes are not protected by this act –  YDGLA and PDGLA are trying to get motor vehicles excluded from them, via an amendment to a Bill going through Parliament at the moment (but only applies to England).
31] Wrexham  Highways Officer.  responded by saying that a TRO is not feasible – How to Police?
32] Cllr. S. Davies Stated council tax would have to go up by 25% if a TRO was imposed.
33] Ken Skates AM , Would like to work on the 2006 amendment. It is essential we engage BOTH sides. We know this is a National problem, a relatively new activity (in the last two decades) We cannot upgrade all roads We need to get agreements with residents etc. so that upset is not caused. He has witnessed some damage. We need practical solutions that are agreeable to both sides. The Welsh Government has undertaken a consultation on this issue.
34] Portia Kennaway, asked how areas under threat might be protected by preventing illegal access through the use of gates etc. and she cited the example of controls frequently imposed in urban areas, which restricted access to areas that had suffered from anti-social behaviour.
35] Wrexham Highways Officer, responded by saying that would need full public consultation exercises. Everything comes down to cost.
36] Dr. Jean Rosenfeld, We should be investing in Green lanes. Only by according our roads and footpaths status as 'assets' and including them in a proper asset management plan would real progress be achieved. The whole topic should go higher up within Local Authorities –Raise its Priority.
37] Horse Rider, We need to crack down on illegal users. Good guys attend the Meetings – we need to sort out the bad guys. Can 4x4 users challenge the irresponsible users? She uses public tracks sensibly, but is prepared to pay a fee to go for a gallop, on private land.
38] Steve Harris (Tread Lightly); 4x4 person; “BLESMA” is for ex Servicemen. They drive amputees / wounded servicemen round so they can enjoy the countryside and get access to it by using 4x4's.
39] Lane Care Scheme GLASS/Trail Riders Fellowship on bridleways , footpaths etc. they have dug drains. They volunteer to help with maintenance. He has had  his bonnet bent by a Walker using his walking stick. All vehicles are MOT’d, So noise pollution is not an issue because they are noise tested.
40] Janet Williams (BDS); stated that the Welsh Government now appears to have no green paper going through on this subject.  She would like to ask our AM’s... What is happening with the Green Paper?
41] S.A.Marriott (Sops); the meeting was called to address the real problems we are experiencing all the time, (we know what track classifications are). Problems such as Revving engines, Screaming, breaking gates etc. We cannot safely use the Pengwern Valley road, volume of traffic, damage to drains, and noise pollution.--- Close the Badi off.
42] D Matthews (Game-keeper); Privately installed sleepers put in by the land owner on the Wayfarer’s track have been carried off and put somewhere else by unknown 4x4s.
43] Arfon Hughes (NRW): They can give landowners permission to place and remove sleepers without being prosecuted.
44] Pengwern Resident, Mountain Bikes can cause damage too. Look at Pengwern Mountain.
The impact on Community and local environment has been clearly stated. The 4x4 people represented at this meeting are trying to do things the right way. It is another element that is causing the problems. The community needs to work together- maybe using legislation to work things out.
A further meeting will be held in 2 months time:
Ken Skates AM will be asked to provide feedback on what the Welsh Government is doing in terms of the consultations it has undertaken and what new legislation is proposed to address this issue. (current position with Green Paper).  (It would be helpful if the Civil Servant dealing with this matter in WG is also invited to attend the next meeting, to  answer any technical questions from the community).
Councillor S. Davies  was asked to call for a report from the Denbighshire County Council's legal officer on 'best practice' adopted by other Local Authorities who have been successful securing TRO's to regulate use of un-metalled roads. (It would be helpful if a representative from the Council's legal department could attend the next meeting to explain the Council's legal options on this issue). Cllr. Davies will also be asked to report back on the outcome from the forth-coming DCC ‘closed meeting’ he is due to attend. 
Final Comments:   
This meeting has allowed persons to air points of view. We need to have a moral argument for what these paths are used for.
Dr. Jean Rosenfeld (LAF) and John Palmer  suggested SOPS could create a subgroup with interested parties to explore problems and then advise AMs and Councils. A smaller group would be more effective. (SOPS to consider this).
Phil Jones proposed a second open meeting in (say) two months time. This was seconded by E.L. Hart.
S. Davies; I will take representations made tonight to the up-coming DCC Meeting. All things go back to costs
Andy; I live by the Badi and see the same Landrover going up and down; how can that be considered ‘normal traffic’. Cllr. Davies only gives excuses, DCC Highways are not here. Thanks to the Wrexham Highways officer for turning up.
Aled Roberts AM, who attended the meeting, but did not speak , indicated that he will help in any way he can.
Footnote: A total of 99 people signed the register of attendees in the foyer; 54 of whom indicated their support of SOPS.

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