British Canoeing is pleased to confirm that an important river access point in Yorkshire has been reopened. Historic route in Brighouse now saved – but others could be at threat.
For the past year British Canoeing has been involved in a legal case involving the Old Ford in Brighouse, West Yorkshire. This short street passed from the main road to the River Calder, meeting (as the name suggests) an old fording point across the river. The lane has not traditionally been the easiest of portage routes – not least as it has been allowed to be gated and locked up for many years! However, many of the other access points to the Calder are not actually public Rights of Way, and therefore rely on good landowner relations to ensure continued access. This means the Old Ford (also known locally as Snake Lane) represents one of the very few places with a defined public right – and therefore important to maintain for all river users, including paddlers.
The site surrounding the lane was bought by a developer, with a major supermarket chain looking to build upon the site. Unfortunately their plans involved submitting an application to close Old Ford under Section 116 of the Highways Act 1980. With no acceptable substitute access being provided via rerouting the highway at Old Ford British Canoeing decided to object to this application, stating that public rights to access the water must be maintained on the principle of ‘once a highway, always a highway’. The issue was brought before magistrates in West Yorkshire to adjudicate upon.
Initially magistrates ruled in favour of closing the Old Ford – a decision British Canoeing decided to appeal. After a second hearing at Bradford Crown Court we are pleased to announce the appeal was successful, with the judge finding that the original decision was flawed and that the public highway must be reopened.
In tandem to the legal process in Yorkshire, an application had also been made to the Secretary of State for Transport for an S-247 Public Enquiry. This process allows the minister to review the evidence and collect representations from any interested stakeholders before making a judgement on applications which becomes legally binding. However, the application has now been removed before the minister made a judgement – meaning that the threat to the lane has, for now, been removed.
The successful outcome of this case has helped clarify both land and river access status. I am very pleased with the outcome.– Chris Hawkesworth who led British Canoeing’s work on this case
In addition to the benefit of seeing the Old Ford route reopened, this case has also resulted in other benefits for paddlers. The judgement prevents a precedent being set, seeing such routes being closed. It has also enabled us to use the research completed by Doug Caffyn in the Crown Court – the court accepted this evidence, which again helps to give it a degree of precedence.
British Canoeing would like to thank all the paddlers who submitted objections to both the closure application and the Public Enquiry. We’d also like to thank Doug Caffyn, the Yorkshire Regional Development Team Greg Spencer, Tim Wheeler, and John Bates for their invaluable input into this case.
Although Old Ford is registered on Calderdale’s list of public highways, the case reminds us that many historic routes are currently not registered. Under a clause in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act all historic routes that have not been used since 1949 will no longer be able to be registered as public rights of way after a cut-off date in 2026. This could mean many waterside routes like the Old Ford that are not currently registered will be lost to paddlers. British Canoeing is putting together a project to help identify and register such routes – if you would like more information or to be involved please contact us via [email protected]
The full judgement from the County Court is attached to this news story, and you can download it below.