Hertfordshire County Council – Alleged MaladministrationIn June 2010 I asked the Highways Department of Hertfordshire County Council for a meeting to discuss the possibility of stopping-up a length of disused highway from the junction to the back of the site, outside our cottage. The road in question is a dead end with an area of land at the far end which was previously used as a Highways yard where they stored aggregates for the maintenance of the highways, but which is now derelict. The problems we have been experiencing over the last 20 years or so are those of antisocial behaviour, namely, sexual activity, drug taking, fly tipping, dumping of vehicles. In addition members of the public have been using the area as a toilet.
Those present at the meeting were two Highways officers, a County Council solicitor, my solicitor and myself. I provided all those present with identical files, prepared by myself and containing various photographs, information and a typewritten Proposal. The proposal detailed the problems we were suffering and those steps that we considered necessary to halt the antisocial behaviour. We detailed that once stopped up at it’s junction with the main road, we would erect a fence and gate to the junction end to prevent the ingress of unauthorised persons and vehicles.
The meeting was somewhat difficult at times as one particular Highways officer continually barracked me with comments such as “why should I care about your quality of life” and “does this mean more work for me”, whilst I was trying to present the case. A warning comment from my solicitor did not halt his insults and County’s solicitor made no attempt to silence him.
I was informed by County’s solicitor that in principle the stopping up order could go ahead at a cost of £6,000 to be paid by my husband and myself. The solicitor confirmed that the work would take approximately 6 months, would culminate in a Magistrates Court hearing and if no objections were received by utilities companies or members of the public, then the road would be closed. My solicitor and I were asked to supply a plan of the area in question, together with a proposed Notice. Within a short period of time my solicitor and I prepared a plan and sent it to the Highways Department.
Despite several letters chasing Highways Department for confirmation that the plan had been received and was in order, it was some 6 weeks later before we heard from them but in their correspondence there was no direct confirmation that the plan was in order.
In January 2011 the case reached the Magistrates Court and I attended in good time before commencement of the proceedings. Whilst in the anti-room the Council took out their paperwork and to my horror produced a plan that was very obviously not the one prepared and supplied by my solicitor and I. I took out a copy of my plan and showed them that it bore annotation in my hand writing but when confronted with this they were adamant that the map in their possession had been supplied by me. During the Court proceedings the same Highways officer who had interrupted the initial meeting began making inappropriate comments about one of the members of the bench and he continued to do so throughout the hearing. The outcome was that the Court stopped-up only the Council yard at the end of the length of highway and not the entire highway to it’s junction. This resulted in the entrance to the road being left open as before and thereby allowing the continued nuisance and antisocial behaviour.
Lengthy communication has ensued over the last 18 months during which my solicitor and I have suggested that something happened to the plan whilst it was in their possession and with County retaliating with the suggestion that my solicitor drew another plan.
We pointed out that there was no reason to supply a different plan to the area discussed at the original meeting. We have asked why they did not check the plan against the Proposal supplied which was accurate in it’s description of the length of Highway to be stopped up and they replied that this is not their job.
Though County posted a copy of their plan in the vicinity of the road, we did not check it up close and assumed it was the one we supplied. We supplied the plan reflected in the Proposal but County have refused to accept that this is their mistake.
We have tried to involve our local Councillor with no success. The Local Government Ombudsman had declined to investigate; we are told that this is because litigation is in progress.
Recently County has agreed to take the matter back to Court for a fixed fee and a new plan. So far this matter has cost my husband and I £15,000 and the costs are still rising. We have been advised that to take County to a higher Court would cost somewhere in the region of £20,000 to £30,000, would take approximately 2 years and we would have a 55-60% chance of success.
We are pensioners and this ever increasing financial outlay is coming out of the savings we have put aside to live on.
UPDATE August 2012
The County Council agreed to make a further Application to the Court to stop up the Highway for an additional sum of money to be paid by us and we have reached the stage at which the Borough and Parish Councils have been informed of our intention to close the road and are given the opportunity of commenting. The Borough Council have confirmed that they have no objection to the proposed second Application to stop up the Highway but the Parish Council are objecting on the grounds that this prevents the public from having access to public land. This doesn’t make sense because they agreed to the first Application, thereby preventing public access to that part of the road which was the subject of the Application, so there is no public land to access. The road in question now goes nowhere except our cottage or the farmer’s field, both of which are private land.
County sent a letter to Parish explaining the issues involved in closing the road. I attended the Parish Planning Meeting at which the letter was to be discussed. Unfortunately, the acting Chairman did not read the letter and dismissed it as “legal speak”, stating that he didn’t like the fact that “no money was changing hands”. He looked at the other two members of the Planning Committee in turn and said “do you agree”, one said “yes”, the other, although seemingly wanting to speak, was not given the opportunity.
We were informed at the outset of this matter that any objection raised by Borough or Parish Councils, Utilities, or any member of the public, would probably mean that the road would not be closed. There were no objections to the first Application. Had County handled the matter correctly and not, as we allege, provided the incorrect plan to the Court, any objectors will have been identified prior to going to Court and 20 months of litigation and ever rising costs would have been avoided.