RIGHTS OF WAY WATCH
The first “Lost bridleway” discovered in Hampshire.
Maureen Comber reveals for the first time the full story behind
15-year fight for riders’ rights
I receive a letter from one of Hampshire County Council’s Rights of Way Map Review Officer’s. It was forwarded to me from the Mid Hants Bridleways Group. It was a consultation with regards to a claim for a right of way known as Clay’s Lane, East Worldham.
In my reply I asked the Officer if, while she was looking at the Inclosure Awards for that area, she would also take a look at another award in the same locality which seemed to me as if it might be a missing bridleway. It was a continuation of BW62 Parish of Binsted which ran close to the parish boundary with Kingsley, to Sickles Hatch.
There was no response.
I officially claimed this bridleway, because I noticed that there was a planning application for the conversion of chicken sheds at a site through which the bridleway might possibly run. This time I had an acknowledgement for my claim.
Even though I had drawn attention to the urgency for research because of the planning application, I received a letter from Hampshire County Council’s Rights of Way Section that my claim for the bridleway from Alice Holt Forest to Sickles Hatch was now 10th on their list due for research.
After again pointing out the urgency because of the planning application, I received a letter from the Rights of Way Manager saying that they had many applications which the applicants would wish to be given higher priority but they had a strict policy of researching claims in the order they are received and that in any case the Definitive Map Team were now working on producing a new digitised Definitive Map which would make demands on their time.
I wrote to Binsted Parish Council with regard to an updated planning application for the conversion of the chicken sheds. Unfortunately this ended up back on the desk of the HCC Rights of Way Manager so no further forward, except a letter on 9th November stated that my claim was now 8th from the top of the list. Over the past year therefore it had moved up only two spaces !! Further correspondence confirms that staff are concentrating on updating the Definitive Map.
I receive a letter from the Solicitors of the owner of the land subject to the planning application, requesting accurate information as to the line of the claimed bridleway. I respond that only research to be carried out by Hampshire County Council’s Rights of Way Team can ascertain that. Further correspondence ensues, ending with a threat to issue proceedings for a declaration as to the correct line of the bridleway, coupled with a claim for damages if I do not release the site from the claim.
Further pleading with Hampshire County Council brings the same evasive responses.
I wrote to Government Office for the South East explaining the circumstances and asked that they require the research to be done.
I received a letter from Hampshire County Council that the case has been taken up for research. In my response I explained that the claim is based solely on the historical research in the 1852 Inclosure Awards for the Parish of Binsted and is probably one of our ‘lost ways’.
The claim for the bridleway was recommended to the Regulatory Committee of Hampshire County Council where it received approval.
The Order for the claimed route from BW62 Parish of Binsted to Sickles Lane along the parish boundary was made.
So far it has taken ten years.
But the story doesn’t end there.
The landowner through which the bridleway runs objected to the Order.
My records show that although the objection had happened by January 2006, Hampshire County Council had not forwarded the papers to the Planning Inspectorate until the following April, nevertheless the Public Hearing took place on 12th December 2006. The Planning Inspectors report dated 16th January 2007 concludes that the Order be confirmed.
But that is still not the end of the story.
I wrote to Hampshire County Council asking when the work needed to make the path serviceable would be done. It requires three culverts and a bridleway gate. The work needs to be implemented before the weather deteriorates because of the clay subsoil. The response was devastating. “I am advised that works to install ditch crossings, culverts etc cannot be met out of this year’s capital funds and would need to be considered out of next year’s funds……………….This advice is given without prejudice to the fact that we may not, in fact be responsible for the maintenance of the path”.
Yet more correspondence followed to DEFRA , Open Spaces and Binsted Parish Council.
The Rights of Way Officer tried to negotiate with the landowner who seemed reluctant to accept the situation. Unfortunately, in his laudable attempt to work with the owner’s Land Agent, the proceedings became more and more protracted.
I stood in the local elections and become a District Councillor for East Hampshire. I asked our Head of Planning if any funding streams were available to help with the installation of this new bridleway. The public had been missing out for too long on a facility which would give them much quiet enjoyment in the countryside and the safety of being off road. The answer was affirmative so I asked our Principal Landscape Officer if he would take up negotiations.
We met on site with the Officer from Hampshire County Council who wished to continue his negotiations with the Landowner. We waited patiently. The Head of Planning left EHDC and HCC’s Rights of Way Officer moved to another district.
October 14 2009.
HCC’s new Rights of Way Officer and I were both attending a meeting at EHDC’s Council Offices in PetersfieId; when the meeting had finished I suggested that we had a look to see if our Principal Landscape Officer was in the office. As luck would have it he was and after introductions had been made they agreed to come up with a strategy to try and move the project forward.
Christmas came and went but in the Spring we agreed that we should try and get the application for funding to East Hampshire’s July 2010 Cabinet meeting for approval. By now the path bordered the recently created South Downs National Park.
The day of the Cabinet meeting arrived but unfortunately the story still doesn’t end here. Regrettably I could not attend because I had a hospital Governor’s meeting on the same evening. However it should not be a problem. The Officers had put in a good report and the scheme had in any event been recommended by the previous Head of Planning.
But come the day, the question was asked as to who could use the bridleway. Could it be used by cyclists? There was nobody there who knew the answer to that, which was of course ‘yes’. Horse riders had agreed to share the bridleways with cyclists under the 1968 Countryside Act, with the proviso that they must give way to walkers and horse riders. That was of course long before the birth of the mountain bike! It is because of this that bridleways are considered ‘best value’ when it comes to rights of way, simply because they cater for everyone and are clearly shown on the Ordnance Survey Maps.
Anyway the item was deferred for lack of information until the next Cabinet meeting in September.
September 2010. The Cabinet unanimously agreed to release £4,500 needed to make the path available and in so doing upheld the Council’s strap line of ‘Improving People’s Lives’.
Is this the end of the story?
Not quite. When the work is done and when people can enjoy the bridleway/footpath then this particular story will I hope have ended.
But 15 years to reach this stage ……..?
Let us hope that with the coming of the Big Society and Localism this lengthy process can be considerably shortened.
District Councillor for the Ward of Selborne, famous for its claim to be the home of the first naturalist, Gilbert White.
The important point about BW504 is that it can be called a genuine 'Lost Way', the only one which I know of discovered in Hampshire.
Discovering Lost Ways was a DEFRA initiative to secure lost ways which should be on the Definitive Map before the cut off date of 2026.
This was in response to the 2000 CROW ACT. Predictably it proved to be too mammoth a task and so has now been discontinued. Notwithstanding, the Hampshire CC's Local Highway Authority have refused to make it available. It has been left to East Hampshire District Council in response to my request to pick up the tab so to speak.
Ironically Hampshire County Council's Local Access Forum have revived the 'Lost Ways' initiative locally and it is now known as PATHH (providing access to Hampshire’s Heritage). They received £50,000 from the lottery for research. I have alerted them to the difficulties I have experienced and asked how they will be able to persuade HCC to implement any of their findings.!!!!
Of course I have not had a reply.
"Lost" bridleways, damaged and/or dangerous closed by local Councils
Are there any in your area?
Do you have a story to tell similar to Maureen’s