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Chapel Gate – TRF wins ‘hollow victory’ in the Peak District

January 2013

An important BOAT in the Peak District National Park, Chapel Gate, a 3km track which skirts Rushup Edge between Chapel-en-le-Frith and Edale, was badly damaged by 4x4s and trail bikes. The Peak District National Park Authority (PDNPA) made an Experimental Traffic Regulation Order (ETRO) on it in August 2011, closing it to motor vehicles, which was intended to run for 18 months. Chapel Gate crosses a landscape of the highest international importance for its wildlife and natural beauty. This includes a Special Area of Conservation, a Special Protection Area and a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Members of the authority’s Audit, Resources and Performance Committee took a decision to introduce an experimental ban on vehicles after considering evidence that deep vehicle ruts, mud, water and exposed rocks were deterring walkers, cyclists and horse-riders, and erosion had widened up to 12 metres as people deviated onto surrounding land with fragile wildlife habitats.

This Order was successfully challenged by the Trail Riders Fellowship (TRF) in the High Court on 7 November 2012, where a ruling overturned the Order after it had run for 15 of the intended 18 months. Mr Justice Ouseley, in a judgment handed down on 30 November, ruled that the precise wording used in the reasons for the Order did not fully reflect the experiment being carried out, and so quashed the Order. It appears that the PDNPA were muddled in their thinking and in their documentation. They had made an Order for the purpose of an experiment, and had then failed to set out exactly what the experiment was designed to test.

However, five further arguments made by the TRF were all rejected by the judge. These were that:

  • the Order was not a genuine experiment and was irrational or unlawful;
  • the Experimental Order was made to avoid the procedure for making a permanent Traffic Regulation Order;
  • the condition of the route and the cost of repairing it couldn’t be used as grounds to consider an experiment;
  • they should have separately considered the needs of two and four-wheeled vehicles;
  • the authority was obliged to undertake the least restrictive form of experiment.

The PDNPA do now have 15 months of evidence which they have gathered during the closure, from which they can decide whether further restrictions are needed or not. A report on the judgment and responses to it will be considered by members of the authority’s Audit, Resources and Performance Committee on 25 January 2013.

The lesson here is for PDNPA to come up with a form of words that would have satisfied the judge and to use it next time an ETRO is ventured. The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority learned a similar lesson, applied it, and haven’t been challenged since. If PDNPA’s reformulated ETRO procedure is circulated to other National Park Authorities, a handbook of foolproof ways of making TROs will steadily be built up. The outcome of this case will then be a ‘hollow victory’ for the TRF (their own term).

Perhaps realising that the spotlight is on them, the TRF have advised their members not to use Chapel Gate before 25 January as it is waterlogged. If the track is further damaged during this period, it will be an open and shut case against them.