Oxfordshire footpath upgraded to bridleway
Says Troth Wells, County Access and Bridleways Officer, British Horse Society, Oxfordshire
Ten years ago, BHS Oxfordshire member Sir David Money-Coutts applied to Oxfordshire County Council for a footpath in Highmoor near Nettlebed to be upgraded to a bridleway. Finally, after 10 years, the application rose to the top of the pile and has now been approved after a Public Inquiry.
This is a story of tenacity by Sir David who was moved to make the application when the path was closed to riders in 2001. He knew it had been ridden for over 20 years, ‘as of right’ and went about gathering user evidence forms from local riders and witnesses.
The path runs through Padnell’s Wood and makes a useful, safe, off-road link to the bridleway across Kingwood Common and also the one through the Nettlebed estates.
Sir David contacted about 20 witnesses who completed user evidence forms with comments such as ‘This path was always ridden even back in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Have never seen notices, or obstructions to indicate differently’, and ‘Have seen riding on path by present and past owners of land without challenge’.
These are important comments for an application based on user evidence, since the tests include whether or not the landowner knowingly allowed people to ride on the path by not putting up obstructions or notices to prevent them. In other words, over the 20-year period, they rode along the path ‘as of right’, as if it were a public bridleway, with no contestation by the owner.
The Council supported the application but it was opposed by the landowner and so went to Public Inquiry in June 2012.
The Inspector found, on the basis of the evidence, that the route had been used ‘as of right’ for the 20-year period:
‘The claimed bridleway has been used by the public as of right and without interruption for a period of 20 years before 2001 and, during that period, there is insufficient evidence of no intention to dedicate the claimed bridleway. In my view, there is cogent evidence of public use of the Order route as a bridleway for the 20-year period before 2001 and that such use has been without any effective challenge.’
This is an excellent outcome and shows that it is possible, with patience, to upgrade footpaths that have commonly been used by equestrians over the relevant period, if supported by user evidence.
The very sad side – hence the ‘bittersweet’ of the title, is that Sir David passed away in June, five days after the Public Inquiry which he was unable to attend, without knowing the outcome . But in correspondence he was optimistic, and his family, friends – and riders - will be delighted on his behalf and very grateful for his efforts.
The Order Decision (Ref FPS/U3100/7/33) can be viewed at the Planning Inspectorate site www.planningportal.gov.uk