2 March 2021
I am writing to try and clarify what has happened, and what is happening in relation to the rights of way access down St Luke’s Church Road (SLCR). There are many statements being made that are inaccurate. This is a very protracted and complex matter and, whilst trying to explain it below, the summaries at the end state the salient facts.
Sefton Council used to have regular meetings with interested parties to discuss the rights of way, pathways, bridleways etc., throughout the borough. During one of the meetings, in 2016, the public access down SLCR was discussed and the Parish Councillor representing Formby Parish Council (FPC) asked for clarification from Sefton Borough Council (SBC). The Right of Way was not shown on the Definitive Map. (v)
In his letter dated 8th July 2016, the Highways Manager for SBC advised that:
“St Luke’s Church Road is not a public right of way and its use by pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders is informal and permissive” (i). This meant that the landowner, (or any future landowner) could remove permission and access at any time. FPC were advised that the only way to claim a right of way was to make an application. This had to be completed before 2025 otherwise the Right of Way would be lost. (ii)
The application process by FPC commenced in 2017. It was based on the original applications made in 1991 and 2004, by the Formby Civic Society, because those applications had been legally decided by SBC, but the necessary orders were never made (iii). Additionally, it includes that a Right of Way be granted at the cut-through from Beechwood Drive to St Luke’s Church Road. At this time there were no motorised gates, and the National Trust had no land ownership.
As part of the process FPC had to collect evidence of what access to the road, and that area, residents in Formby had enjoyed over the years. This was gathered as signed witness statements by any resident of Formby who wished to take part. Additionally, on 7th August 2017 residents and landowners of Albert Road, Alexandra Road, and St Luke’s Church Road were written to enclosing two documents. Form ‘B’ – a notification of the application, and Form ‘F’ a landowner evidence form for them to respond to the Rights of Way officer at SBC.
There were unidentified landowners for 3 of the rights of way claimed. SBC advised that because the landowner was not known, public notices had to be displayed on trees and lamp posts in the area. Notices were displayed for 6 weeks, after which on 13th Feb 2018 SBC were advised that the application process had been completed by FPC.
On 18th August 2017 FPC were contacted by a resident, who identified herself as the Secretary to the Albert and Alexander Road Action Group, who requested a meeting with the FPC Chair. Subsequently a meeting was held with the Chair Cllr Coles, Cllr Prescott, and representatives of the residents of Albert and Alexander roads. Following this meeting the secretary to the Action Group asked residents of the two roads to attend the FPC meeting on 5th September 2017 (iv)
During the meeting residents from Albert and Alexandra Roads expressed concern at the Parish Council decision to apply for a modification order for the definitive rights of way map. Cllrs Coles and Prescott explained that an application had been made in 1991 and a recommendation was made by SBC that this should be included on the definitive map as a right of way.
It was noted that, for unknown reasons, this was never implemented. It was further explained that there was the further complication of the transfer of land to the National Trust and the work being undertaken by the Liverpool City Region on the rights of way, which includes the Sefton Coastal Path. The residents advised that they were agreeable to the roads being open for footpaths and bridleways but that they were concerned about the roads being open to vehicle use as they have experienced anti-social behaviour and vehicles trying to access the beach over the dunes and getting stuck.
In summary, the residents advised that they would prefer vehicle access for residents of those roads; the roads to be maintained to be passable (some of the deeds state that this should be a gravel path); access for walkers, cyclists, and equestrian use; continued access for the shrimpers (a long-standing arrangement); not to have any curfew imposed.
Cllr Coles advised residents that they should complete Form ‘F’ and return to Mr B. Goodwin, Sefton Council, as the final decision would be made by the Borough Council.
Approach to the Secretary of State
Following the submission of the application in 2018, SBC did not make any decision on it. Because of this, and following protracted communications, FPC took legal advice from a specialist Rights of Way law company. They produced a document that was submitted to the Secretary of State (SoS) for them to act and ask SBC to deal with the situation. The SoS gave SBC 12 months in which to resolve matters. The 12 months ended in October 2020, however because of the pandemic this has caused a delay.
The charges in relation to providing legal advice and providing a legal dossier total £750.
Public Path Creation Agreement
During this ongoing process, SBC came to an agreement in collaboration with the landowner of SLCR. The FPC were excluded from this process and were not given a copy until after this had been made. FPC was advised that this agreement was ‘in parallel’ with the application which was now submitted to the SoS. The FPC has therefore not reneged on this agreement because it was excluded from and not party to it.
At their Licensing Committee, SBC decided that the application made in 2004 on public access to SLCR should be progressed, and the necessary orders made. Any opposition to this decision by the Licensing Committee will require a submission to the SoS for them to decide on the final status of the Right of Way. For this to happen it is possible that the SoS will hold another public consultation or public inquiry as they see fit. They chose not to include that part of the application from FPC. The only part of the FPC application that was decided and approved was the cut-through to Beechwood Drive. (vi)
Residents now have the chance to state their case to SBC about the decision of the Licensing Committee as per the letter they received.
(i) The application for a Right of Way had to be made because the Definitive Map did not show that there was one.
(ii) Any Right of Way not shown on the Definitive Map by 2025 will be lost forever.
(iii) The Right of Way was decided in 1991 and reaffirmed in 2004, and evidence shows that it was well established for decades prior to that.
(iv) Residents, and landowners, have been included in this process, however this has taken an exceptionally long time. Any resident who has moved into the area since Feb/Mar 2018 may well not be aware of the process that has been taking place.
(v) Any new residents, since 1991 may not have had this Right of Way included in their ‘Search’ because it is not on the Definitive Map.
(vi) The ‘Orders’ to be issued are not based on the FPC’s application but rather an ‘affirmation’ of the decisions taken in 1994 and 2004 – FPC cannot ‘withdraw’ it.
Clarity and Avoidance of Doubt
- The FPC’s only intention is to secure a Right of Way.
- The FPC has not made an application to have the gates removed.
- If any objections are made to the SBC decision, then SBC will approach the SoS for a final judgement, this will possibly require a public inquiry or other consultation at which point all opinions will be considered.
- The FPC were excluded from the public path agreement and have not ‘reneged on the deal’.
- The FPC are fully aware of all concerns and opinions.