A council in the East Midlands has committed to reviewing how it maintains the area’s cycleways, after forking out £36 for puncture repairs – over eleven months after a local cyclist complained that a bike path littered with hedge cuttings and debris caused three punctures in one ride for two Ukrainian guests staying at his home.
Rutland County Council initially refused to clear the hazardous bike path, claiming that it was the responsibility of the owner of the adjacent field, prompting the cyclists to sweep the path clear themselves.
After months of correspondence between the cyclist and the local authority, including threats of legal action, the council eventually agreed to settle the claim, through its insurers, almost a year later, while promising to review how it responds to reports of debris on cycleways. However, the council has continued to deny liability for the punctures.
David Nicholson first contacted Rutland County Council in September last year, after two Ukrainian guests staying at his home suffered three punctures, caused by hedge cuttings on a bike path located next to the busy Ryhall Road. The pair were then forced to walk their bikes into Stamford for repairs.
“I offered to cover the cost, but they are the most considerate people I have ever met and would not take a penny,” Mr Nicholson told the Rutland and Stamford Mercury.
“Anxious to avoid a repeat, or to force them to cycle on a busy road, I rang the council and asked it to clear the cycle way. To my amazement, it refused, saying that it was the responsibility of the landowner.”
While the cyclists decided to sweep the cycle path clear themselves, Mr Nicholson contacted the council’s highways department, arguing that compensation should be granted to cover the costs of the new tubes.
“A cycleway is part of a highway and, as with spills on a road, the council has a responsibility to keep it clear,” he said.
After initially being sent an incorrect form, Mr Nicholson eventually submitted a receipt for the £36 worth of puncture repairs to the council.
“Rather than accept responsibility, and settle the relatively tiny sum, it referred the claim to Zurich, its insurers,” he noted.
“Firstly, Zurich Insurance denied liability on the basis that the responsibility for clearing up lay with the person who cut the hedge. That may be so, but it does not absolve the council from responsibility for ensuring that it is cleared, just as would happen in the event of a lorry spillage.”
After eight months of silence from the council – during which Mr Nicholson threatened to take the matter to the smalls claims court – in August he sent a final letter preceding court action, demanding a reply within 14 days.
“At last, on the final day, it agreed to settle the claim,” he said.
“I'm surprised that Rutland didn't just settle out of its petty cash. I would not have persevered for my own sake, but our guests do need the money and would not accept charity beyond our help overcoming the Government’s Homes for Ukraine visa hurdles and somewhere to live for nine months.”
However, earlier this month, a few weeks after Mr Nicholson’s claim was finally settled, another local posted on social media an image of another nearby cycle path – located beside the Stamford Road in Oakham – littered with hedge cuttings.
A council spokesperson told the local newspaper that the delay in dealing with Mr Nicholson’s claim owed to its “robust” insurance processes, established to protect from fraud, while claiming that it is currently reviewing how it deals with claims of debris-littered cycleways, such as the one above,
“They may seem excessive, but are important to protect public money from potentially false claims,” they said.
“In this case, the claim involved a third party acting on behalf of the claimant, which can take longer to resolve. We have also apologised for delays caused by the council sending out an incorrect form.
“In addition, we are reviewing the way we respond to reports of debris on cycleways.”
Ryan joined road.cc as a news writer in December 2021. He has written about cycling and some ball-centric sports for various websites, newspapers, magazines and radio. Before returning to writing about cycling full-time, he completed a PhD in History and published a book and numerous academic articles on religion and politics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (though he remained committed to boring his university colleagues and students with endless cycling trivia). He can be found riding his bike very slowly through the Dromara Hills of Co. Down.