The Green Lanes sub-group of the Peak District Local Access Forum (LAF) met on 8th Jan to discuss Derbyshire County Council’s (DCC) proposed maintenance of the Rushup Edge/Chapelgate byway. In a welcome break from normal procedure, other interested parties were invited and given the opportunity to contribute to the meeting throughout. Hence, Ride Sheffield (RS), Peak District MTB (PDMTB), Friends of the Peak District (FoPD) and members of the Disabled Ramblers were able to take a full part.
This gave the signatories to the joint statement, RS, PDMTB and FoPD the opportunity to explain to the LAF why they were so implacably opposed to DCC’s plans for Rushup Edge. All three cited the lack of consultation prior to the work commencing, (including with the LAF), the appalling effect on the landscape, the fact that DCC over-estimate the danger of being served with a Section 56 order and the fact that, with a little imagination, a less intrusive scheme of work would fulfil the needs of all user groups.
The Disabled Ramblers representative explained how many of the new generation of tramper buggies can cope with difficult gradients and steps but that the current surface on Rushup Edge is to severe. Ride Sheffield suggested that it was incumbent on all of us to consider the importance of disabled access very carefully. It is, of course, a fundamental right for the disabled to be able to enjoy the Peak District just as others can, but it begs the question how far can we go to accommodate that aspiration without removing the challenge for others.
Also present was Peter White, Rights of Way Officer for DCC. He began by reiterating the main reasons for carrying out maintenance on this important high level route and emphasised that DCC had now consulted widely and that the vast majority of respondents had supported their plans.
Unfortunately, that claim was almost immediately contradicted by almost every subsequent speaker. Charlotte Gilbert of Peak Horsepower, an extremely effective group campaigning on behalf of horse-riders, explained that although the byway is a tough challenge on horseback, it is perfectly feasible in its current state. Furthermore, it is part of the Kinder Loop, one of the rides they promote for more experienced riders. She also took the chance to say that she feels the Peak District National Park Authority is failing to support and promote mountain biking. It goes without saying that these meetings offer an opportunity to find out who your real allies are.
Next up was Sue Weatherley, rambler and cyclist. She asserted that at the outset, she felt that the byway was fine in its current state and that she hadn’t yet heard anything to change her mind. Henry Folkard of the BMC spoke in his capacity as a LAF member and emphasised that the character of the route was of paramount importance given its position on the high moors and its importance to user groups of all types.
The draft conclusions (and hence the basis of the response the LAF will send DCC) were summarised by Mike Rhodes and Sue Smith as:
1. The LAF welcomed continued consultation on the works being carried out;
2. Landscape impacts were of paramount importance on an upland route; DCC should be encouraged to take an approach which adopts measures to conserve character and the rugged nature of the route (originally this was ‘character and challenge’);
3. Take this (landscape-sensitive) approach while making the route accessible to as wider range of users as possible;
4. Minimal intervention needed on the top, boggy (‘pond’) section;
5. Maintenance as important as construction;
6. Unfinished areas can’t be left as are and therefore urge completion of works ASAP using techniques that have durability using natural materials.
So, we now have to wait and see what happens. It is interesting to note that the Rushup/Chapelgate issue may go to a full council meeting for a final decision, and indication of just how seriously this issue is being taken.