THE BATTLE FOR BROXHEAD COMMON.
The story of Maureen Comber’s second 40-year fight for riders’ rights.
Maureen’s first battle was to persuade Hampshire County Council to do their statutory duty and repair just 250 yards of byway. The byway has at last just been repaired and opened to horse riders on 15th May 2011. The fight continues however to get a permanent TRO to prevent the damage which 4WD's cause on this fragile old lane and which has prevented the enjoyment by other non-motorised users during the last 40 years.
Maureen’s second battle is to regain public rights of access to the whole of Broxhead Common, Hampshire.
Broxhead Common is owned by the Ministry of Defence on the west side of the B3004 while the east side is privately owned.
The Commons Registration Act 1965 required all commons, village greens and open spaces to be registered
The Ministry of Defence had bought the common west of the B3004 in the early 1900's but in 1965 after some initial dissent they had no choice but to agree that the common was public open space. This was because soon after they purchased it the Commoners at that time were very concerned at the interference with their grazing rights by the exercise of Cavalry and heavy guns and artillery on the common and appealed for help to the Headley Parish Council. Various incidents are recorded of fence cutting and encroachments, which culminated in a confrontation between the Military Authorities and the Commoners on Saturday afternoon 16th November 1907. The upshot was that the MOD apologised to the commoners and admitted that they had made a mistake and this was not freehold property.
However the landowner on the east side objected to the registration of his land. The previous owner a Mr Sefton Myers had fenced it in without authorisation, 80 acres of the most scarce and valuable wildlife habitat of commonland. This was vigorously fought by the Broxhead Commoners Association under the leadership of John Ellis who was the local Miller and Chairman of Headley Parish Council
Twice the matter was referred to Public Inquiries with the Commons Commissioners
Twice the row reached the High Courts.
Eventually it reached the Court of Appeal in 1978 where the matter was frustrated by a Consent Order in which the landowner and Hampshire County Council came to an agreement.
The agreement was that the Hampshire County Council would support any application to the Secretary of State to keep the fences around the illegally fenced 80 acres if he would rent them the other 101 acres for an SSSI and incidental use by the public for 'air and exercise'. Also 5 acres of the common would be turned into a playing fields for the village of Lindford at a peppercorn rent.
But the question of riders’ rights and the fact that the fences obstructed many of the paths which they used to ride, was left hanging in the air. It was also complicated by the 2nd Review of the Definitive Map 1965 which would leave the common with no legal access for horse riders from the north side of the common and only one footpath from that side. That was FP 54 Parish of Headley.
The story of Maureen's 20 year struggle to get that footpath upgraded to bridleway began in the early 1970's and was the beginning of a long voyage of learning, research and discovery with regard to the law and practice of rights of way.
As for the common and the illegally fenced 80 acres, that is a battle which Maureen Comber is still struggling to resolve – 48-years, nearly half a century after the battle began and will be the subject of another story at a later date, but it is safe to say that the story begins with her membership of the local bridleways group called at the time The Headley and District Bridleways Protection Group.
It reveals in detail the time-wasting, buck-passing nonsense that passes for local government in this country.
It shows the toe-curling, mind-numbing lengths Councillors and Council officials will go to avoid taking decisions and getting the job done
It proves the almost inexaustable stamina, determination and absolute dedication needed by members of the public who take on local authorities.
It also shows what is likely to happen to David Cameron's
Big Society when it hits the rocks of local government reality.