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A CURIOUS episode in Wiltshire again highlights the strangely intimate

relationship which exists between council officials and the lobby

groups which campaign for country footpaths and bridleways to be made

accessible to vehicles such as motorcycles, quad bikes and off-road


In recent years the bikers have caused increasing havoc on hundreds of

such "green lanes", and their aim is to get as many as possible

"upgraded" from RUPPs (roads used as public paths) from which vehicles

are barred, to BOATS (byways open to all traffic).

When a Mr Bill Riley applied to Wiltshire County Council for vehicles

to use a narrow, leafy "green lane" in West Grimstead, the villagers

who enjoy walking down the footpath were horrified. 4x4s would

inevitably tear of the branches of protected trees, gouge out the

steep banks and churn the footpath's surface to mud. But officials of

the council's rights-of-way committee nodded through Mr Riley's

application without even a site visit.

It then turned out that Mr Riley had a rather closer association with

these officials than had been clear. It seemed he had often put in

such applications before, either privately or representing the Trail

Riders Fellowship, a body innocuously described on the council website

as promoting the "conservation of heritage of green lanes". On its

own website, however, the TRF rather more honestly admits that it is

for people who "enjoy exploring green lanes by motor cycle". Mr Riley

had also, it seemed, been consulted by the council on such issues many


When council representatives were challenged on their relationship

with Mr Riley, the rights of way manager merely claimed that he

"assists the council as a voluntary researcher". The council's chief

executive, Dr Keith Robinson, denied even this, stating unequivocally

that "Mr Riley is not consulted by the council". The chairman of the

regulatory committee, however, was rather more forthright: Mr Riley is

"consulted on every application".

At this point Dr Robinson backtracked, explaining that Mr Riley was

not consulted in his "private capacity" but only as representing the

Trail Riders Fellowship. He refused to clarify the position further. A

bemused councillor commented that Mr Riley seemed to be acting as

"batsman, bowler and wicketkeeper" all at once.

So enraged were the villagers by all these evasions and contradictions

that they complained to the local government Standards Board, which

replied that, since the decision to upgrade the lane had been made by

officials, not councillors, it was not their business. The Audit

Commission also declined to get involved, saying that such matters

were the responsibility of the local government ombudsman. He replied

that it was not in his remit either. So they then wrote to the

minister, Jim Knight, who also said it was the responsibility of the

ombudsman. When they went back yet again to the ombudsman, quoting the

minister, they were told the matter would now be given "further

consideration". Meanwhile, as one body of officials after another

passes the parcel, the villagers of West Grimstead grimly await the

day when the first convoy of 20 bikers roars its way down their green

lane, chewing up its grass and wild flowers into a sea of mud.

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