A row has broken out over the future of a committee which advises Lancashire County Council about rights of way issues.
The Lancashire Local Access Forum (LLAF) was created in 2000 as part of a network of dozens of similar organisations across the country, intended to represent the user groups who access rights of way and the landowners across whose property they pass.
It meets four times a year and although it is not a county council body, its work is facilitated by the authority’s staff.
But the latest meeting of the LLAF heard that County Hall is now willing to organise only one gathering of the group every twelve months.
Committee chair, Richard Toon, accused the council of attempting to “kill off” the forum.
But Lancashire County Council’s rights of way manager, David Goode, said the authority could not see what was being achieved by the quarterly meetings.
“We’re putting the resources in, but what are we getting back?” he asked.
“There may be important issues on the agendas, but what does it achieve by us discussing them here? Yes, we can write a letter to a minister, but what value do we add?”
The authority proposed that council staff could make relevant presentations at a new annual meeting based on questions submitted by members beforehand.
The government legislation which established the LLAF stipulates that it must meet at least twice a year – but members were told that there was nothing stopping them from having informal meetings whenever they choose. Local authorities are also bound to provide secretarial support and consult with the forum before making any changes to it.
Richard Toon slammed the move to cut back the LLAF’s meeting schedule.
“As the chair, it would have been a courtesy to tell me that there was an agenda item today which was fairly fundamental.
“I think it’s an absolute discourtesy to the whole forum to bounce people with an item like this – with not a jot said about it beforehand. We are not making a decision on this today,” he warned.
But it emerged that the decision was not for forum members to make – and that the county council would help organise one further meeting in July before moving to an annual arrangement.
Forum member and Lancashire county councillor, Cosima Towneley, said the user groups on the forum were often more effective than the LLAF itself in raising issues of concern – and doing something about them.
“We need to decide whether we are going to be more proactive or whether we are going to just be a talking shop to sit around every three months and not really achieve anything.
“The landowners know we are toothless, that’s why they have stopped coming,” she added.
Fellow county councillor, Ian Brown, said a reduction in meetings did not prevent members from raising issues with officers throughout the year.
But Richard Toon described as “despicable” the suggestion that the group would have to “find a pub somewhere to meet” if it wanted to gather more than once a year – and he also criticised the county council for failing to maintain a broad range of members on the forum.
“There was a time when Lancashire had a real fired-up enthusiasm to set its sights high in all the things and for the county to be the best that it could be.
“The LLAF has contributed in a small way to that,” he said.