Farmers have slammed Kirklees Council for wasting public resources in a dispute over a muddy track.
A row over rights of way and a farmyard gate escalated to involve six council workers and five police officers – and by the end of the day the issue was still not resolved.
Edward and Angela Bradley, of Nether Moor Farm in South Crosland, put a gate across a track between their fields to stop cows getting out.
But Kirklees Council decided to take action against them for allegedly blocking a byway.
But the Bradleys dispute that the land – a narrow, single-track muddy lane – is a byway, saying it has no public access rights.
And it’s not even blocked – an unlocked gate is in place to protect their 70 cattle.
Horseriders and walkers are allowed to use the private track with permission.
But this morning at 8.30am six Kirklees Council workers arrived to dismantle the gate and reclaim the disputed byway, accompanied by police in the form of one PC and two PCSOs.
But when the Bradleys stood guard, a police sergeant was called, followed by a second and finally an Inspector was called to resolve the dispute after four-and-a-half hours.
One supporter, public rights of way expert Andy Dunlop, was arrested on suspicion of wilful obstruction and later released. His car which was parked on the land at the centre of the dispute was towed away at the request of police.
Mr Dunlop said he looked forward to his day in court, saying it will test the council’s claim that he was on a public highway and not private land.
Edward and Angela, plus son Jonathan, are the fourth generation of their family to run the cattle farm and the land has been in their family since the late 1800s.
“For six years we’ve tried to talk to Kirklees about this,” said Angela. “Kirklees say it is an alleged byway and that we’ve got a road running through the middle of our farm.
“But it’s not on the definitive map – they’ve just drawn a line on a map and claimed it’s a byway.
“We’ve a long way to go. We may have won the battle today but there’s still a war.
“We’re not giving up. Kirklees Council tried to bully and intimidate us by using the police and, to be fair to the police, they were very reasonable and professional.
“But Kirklees need to realise they don’t have the legal order to back up their argument and they will be in a lot of trouble if they continue like this without it.”
Kirklees Council Assistant Director Joanne Bartholomew said: “The council has received complaints from members of the public about difficulties using public rights of way at Nether Moor Farm.
“Council officers have previously made considerable attempts over several years to remove an obstruction to the public right of way through informal discussions with the landowners.
“As positive steps were not taken to resolve the matter we served formal notice of our intention to remove the obstruction. We are now carrying out the work to free the access to the public right of way.”
The Bradleys say that a Freedom Of Information request to Kirklees Council reveals there have been no complaints about their land.
The family were supported by their neighbouring farmers and members of the National Farmers Union during yesterday’s incident.
In 2009, a Kirklees officer offered the family gates and signs, but they bought a gate themselves.
That same officer was the on site yesterday in a bid to remove them. While the gate remains, he removed a sign the family had put up.
The issue arose after Kirklees listed the track as a byway on its Definitive Map.
The Bradley's Land Registry details show the entire farm land belongs to them. The gate prevents the cows wandering onto the public road. It also keeps motorbikers off the land and prevents illegal occupation of fields.
It’s a muddy track and the only maintenance has been at the family’s expense.
Kirklees’ Definitive Map includes a straight line along the track, which the council argues means it is a byway.
But the Bradleys argue that they had no legal order to draw it on in the mid-80s.
Solicitors for the Bradleys say the line has no meaning and the continuous black line is contrary to the map’s accompanying Statement indicators.