Maintenance to a damaged greenlane in Leicestershire had only just begun in December, when fresh destruction by drivers failing to adhere to a temporary closure caused project costs and timescale to increase. The 'Spring Lane' byway near Packington, part of which is a residential street, has been the focus of long-running conflict between 4x4 users, landowners, walkers and horse riders.
The latest damage highlights how even minor incursions can have major consequences for land management. The original project, which included resurfacing and improvement of drainage, was expected to conclude the lane’s TRO (Traffic Regulation Order) in time for Christmas, but the new damage in December caused costs to increase by an estimated £5k-10k. In addition to spending two days fixing what had already been done, the contractor has been required to instal gates at around £250 each (excluding labour), deliver stone early to block the route, and incur extra delivery costs for machinery. Leicestershire Police is now using CCTV to monitor the lane.
Weather permitting, it is hoped the project will be complete by the end of January. The Green Lane Association (GLASS) is contributing around £10k to the total cost, with the remaining £30k coming from Leicestershire Council.
A long effort
The recent damage was frustrating for GLASS Executive Officer Lauren Eaton, who has been negotiating on behalf of lane users since October 2020.
‘It was quite an emotional situation, with huge animosity towards 4x4 drivers,’ Lauren told LRO. ‘We’d had complaints by local residents to our area rep team. Everyone wanted to close it, including the locals, the police, and the council’s ‘safety partnership’, but there was very little understanding of rights of way, so I had to give examples of other projects we’d worked on.
‘I explained that lack of maintenance is what attracts the wrong type of people to a lane, people who think “nobody cares so why should we?”. At this stage it was really challenging terrain, with a “bomb hole” that has required a lot of drainage, so people were coming here to use winches and to drive it night.
‘I also explained that it can be expensive to close a lane, especially if there’s opposition to the initial public consultation. The lane would still need to be repaired, and if it was closed then GLASS would no longer be there to advocate for land owners and users.’
Although GLASS successfully campaigned for the lane to retain its right of way, repairs had still not begun six months later, prompting her to serve notice to the Leicestershire County Council under Section 56 of the Highways Act. The Council responded by giving responsibility for the project to GLASS.
The bigger picture
This is the first time that GLASS has been directly contracted by a local authority to project-manage maintenance works from start to finish. ‘Our plans are sent to the council for approval,’ says Lauren. ‘It makes things so much quicker and cheaper for everybody. We’ve sourced materials far cheaper than the council could have done themselves.’ Works at Packington are being carried out by Anytime Plant Hire and Groundwork.
Violation of TROs and destructive use of 4x4s on delicate greenlanes poses a real threat to the future of greenlane use in the UK. Speaking about the most recent damage (in December) to the Packington lane, Lauren said: ‘My concern is that, while it’s great that anti-4x4 people are supportive of GLASS, it hasn’t done much for the reputation for the 4x4 community in general.’
The Association, whose membership has grown from 700 to 6000 over the last five years, undertook 11 legal disputes closures in 2021, its highest ever. However, GLASS hopes that this number will reduce in years to come, as a result of better engagement with interested parties and organisations.
‘Clubs are our bread and butter, but big businesses are now approaching us, including two major manufacturers. We’ve had four police forces came forward asking for training, so we’re looking at building a more formal training structure.’
Communication between user groups has been key to securing the future of the greenlanes near Packington, reckons Michael Gallagher, Rural and Wildlife Officer for Leicestershire Police. 'It was so important to bring people together, and in everybody's interest,' he said. 'People who want to use green lanes with common sense are fine – sadly there's always a small minority who spoil it for the others.
'When the work is complete, it's our intention to have an education day with everybody involved, to get everyone working together for common sense usage.'
To learn more about where you can go greenlaning, greenlane restrictions and how to do it responsibly, see our Essential Guide__.