Sometimes procedure in this country is as quaint as it is baffling.
The inquiry concerning the Byway Open to All Traffic AE249 at Chilham (commonly known as Cycle Route 18) has just taken place at Chilham Village Hall.
The inspector, Mr Alan Beckett, arrived to listen to entreaties by the Trail Riders Fellowship that the route should be open to all traffic (but in particular noisy motorbikes and landrovers), and objections from the rest of society defending the collective right to a bit of peace and quiet.
To me this has always appeared a very straightforward case. There are very few people locally who would welcome the trail riders. At the inquiry Mr Beckett asked the assembled throng of 30 or 40 members of the public if anyone supported them. No-one put up their hand.
But then, because this is the law and therefore slightly detached from reality, Mr Beckett explained that the case would be decided on historical evidence as to whether AE249 was actually the old Canterbury to Wye road, and whether it had always been open to motor vehicles. Any current concerns about the environment, peace and quiet, litter etc would therefore be ignored.
In one stroke, the assembled throng was therefore disempowered – apart from two retired lawyers who, thankfully, were familiar with the sort of rigmarole that we were then subjected to.
The trail riders provided a late submission. There was then the question of how people were going to respond or even see this late submission. There was no photocopier in the hall. So two members of the public trooped off to the church to use the copier there.
The inspector (one of the better ones I was told by people who know these things) kept remarkably cool while lawyers and an officer from Kent County Council then discussed the documents that were available to the inspection – and some that were missing. The lawyers cross-examined on the missing documents. Just how did they come to be missing?
That, it became apparent, is not a very easy question to answer. They were just missing.
The public looked on bewildered. Much of the discussion focused on old maps but there was no projector in the hall. The lawyers gathered round a table at the front of the room, discussing things quietly. This wasn’t really a very public inquiry. They might have been discussing their next round of golf or the menu at the Woolpack for all we knew.
At lunchtime I and many others in the audience gave up, heading home thinking about how odd it is that, in this age of austerity, the legal profession can get away with such time-wasting, such ancient practices, and such excess. Four whole days were set aside for the inquiry. I shudder to think about the legal fees incurred.
For the record, it was actually concluded in one and a half days. All the submissions took place on the first day (please see submission from Wye, Godmersham and Chilham parish councils here: 150913 AE429 Appeal Statement – together with the map below) and the second morning was taken up with a site visit.
The result? At the time of writing, we are still waiting. And according to Chris Wade, the officer attending from Kent County Council, we are unlikely to hear the result before Christmas.
But it might not end there. The trail riders could go to appeal. And even if the trail riders win, Kent County Council say that they have other legal means to prevent anyone driving on the path.
It could go on for years and years. And all this about a footpath.
Only in Britain.