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Says Adrienne Yentis

Says Adrienne YentisA friend of mine recently was riding on the heath
and she came across a group of cattle strung out across the bridlepath with no way through – the only way off was to turn round. Fortunately her horse
remained calm throughout. But you can imagine how a nervous horse might react ........... read more

Broxhead Common, Headley, Hampshire

Maureen Comber writes to Dave Webster, Chief Executive, Natural England

- I would like an explanation please as to why Natural England think they can give permission which contradicts the law, namely sec.130 HA 1980 to obstruct the bridleway. I would also like an explanation as to why no consultation has been sought with the Commoners of Broxhead

- This makes all the sign posts Natural England are supposed to have authorised, illegal, because they request that horse riders keep to the bridleways on one, or deny their right entirely on the other? If Natural England have authorised them I would please like to know why they think they are above the law?

Says Maureen Comber,

Says Maureen ComberThree Things

Among the many other voluntary jobs I have taken up during my lifetime, is forty years of voluntary work for The British Horse Society, with a special interest in off road access for horse riders. I have lived at my present address, which is approximately one mile from Broxhead Common, Headley, Hampshire since 1971.

I am writing to you by email because it enables me to attach a small part of the 2011 correspondence between Hampshire County Council and myself, which I believe shows that Natural England are not only acting vexatiously but against the law.

The first of these problems is shown in the photos below taken last Bank Holiday Monday.

Broxhead Common, Hampshire

Broxhead Common, Hampshire

Broxhead Common, Hampshire

You will see from the email this letter is attached to, that I have previously been in touch with Hampshire County Council’s(HCC), Head of Countryside with regard to sign posts, the first of which appeared just two days before a Public Inquiry that was held with regard to my claim for a bridleway, in July 2011. In further correspondence I pointed out that the information given was incorrect because the sign is physically intrusive in the sense that it is not required and an imposition on an otherwise natural space. It is also placed to be read as one exits the common rather than where one might have expected, which is near to the C102. I was also surprised to read the following statement (I am not aware that of any gates on the land we lease at Broxhead Common (although there are gates on other parts of the bridleway, on land for which HCC does not have any responsibility), because surely the County Council as the Local Highway Authority has a duty to see that the bridleways are unobstructed?

It is many months since I last rode my horse out on Broxhead Common until last Monday that is.

As you can see the attached email correspondence took place in July 2011 but the attached photos were taken last Monday, Bank Holiday this year. They show even more signs have been added to the original six, despite all of my correspondence. I say this is vexatious because:

  • The sign in the photo is actually obstructing the line of the bridleway. If a horse bolted for some reason, it could run into the half hidden sign and hurt itself or its rider.
  • Surely it would not have been unreasonable to hope that rather than obstructing the path further with yet another unwarranted sign, the vegetation might be cut back to enable the use of the entire statutory width of the path? This commitment to maintenance was in fact reinforced at a Public Inquiry with regard to a claim by HCC to divert the bridleway where it had been obstructed by illegal fencing FPS/5057/4/20 (1988) and FPS/Z1700/4/20. (1992)
  • The first of these decision letters, refers to the fact that the other land crossed by the bridleway is rented by HCC for recreational purposes (para 5 second page), and both portray the problems being experienced locally with the illegal fencing either side of BW46 in the photo, and around the rest of 80 acres of common land.

As you will see from the email correspondence, the Head of Countryside is saying that “We sought, and gained, permission from Natural England before installing all six new entrance signage at Broxhead Common.” If this is correct I would like an explanation please as to why Natural England think they can give permission which contradicts the law, namely sec.130 HA 1980 to obstruct the bridleway?

I would also like an explanation as to why no consultation has been sought with the Commoners of Broxhead either through myself or Richard Ellis? It was his father who started the Broxhead Commoners Association (BCA) in 1968. This was in response to the registration of Broxhead Common under the CRA 1965. My enquiry as to who had erected the signs and by whose permission, stemmed from the feeling that as locals we are being usurped by heavy handed centralised management.

This brings me to my second thing. It may be that you are already aware of this issue?

In brief, since the Autumn of 2011 I was advised by my barrister to look more closely if possible, at the strange circumstances surrounding the registration of Broxhead Common as common land. I have found the following:

  1. Hampshire County Council as the registration authority for common land have illegally removed 80 acres from the register of common land.
  2. An out of court settlement at the Court of Appeal meant that they would have to support an application to the Secretary of State for the unauthorised fencing. They had accepted the decision of the Chief Commons Commissioner 1974. They did not support an application because no application has ever been made. They seemed to have turned a blind eye to the fact that the fences remain unauthorised. This is probably because documents show that local people would not have supported such application mainly due to the alteration to the landscape which at that time was rare and valuable heathland.
  3. Therefore the lease they took to rent the other 100 acres from the purported land owner could not be valid as it was part of the Schedule.
  4. The rights of the commoners were obstructed and denied even though many questions were asked.
  5. HCC got away with it by removing page 3 from the Consent Order of the Court of Appeal. It therefore could not be seen that the matter had been withdrawn from the Court, no evidence heard, no judgement given. And yet HCC maintain the Court or the Commons Commissioner instructed them to leave the fences in situ. Unbelievable!!
  6. They have subsequently misled the nine Public Inquiries which followed, by not revealing the true state of affairs and covering up their collusion with the purported landowner, Mr Peter Whitfield of Headley Wood Farm.

FYI the Public Inquiries were:

1981 GOSE/108/2/HAMP/4 = W. B. Thrush
25th October 1988 FPS/5057/4/20 . Cancelled, drafting error.
4th September 1989 “ “ = G. F. Laslett
3rd February 1992 FPS/Z1700/4/20 = D. Barker-Wyatt
16th April, 1997 Judicial Review re HCC responsibilities under sec130 HA 1980. For the section of old highway opposite the Rifle Range. Won but then HCC rushed to chambers and got it removed. Concerned a section of the alignment subsequently claimed in the last three PI’s.
25th September, 1997 FPS/Z1700/7/51 = David Bryant
12th October, 2001 GOSE108/2/HAMP/4 = GOSE Jim Palmer
17th January, 2006 NATROW/Q1770/529A/05/04 = Mark Yates
3rd January, 2008 NATROW/Q1770/529A/07/11 =Susan Doran – claim permitted. Instructed HCC to make an order for the bridleway. They did then immediately objected to their own order without returning the matter to the Regulatory Committee.
11th December, 2009 NATROW/Q1770/7/70 = Helen Slade Judicial Review Allowed on point of law.
29th September , 2011 FPS/Q1770/7/7OR = Alan Beckett

I had tried to raise the issue of the irregularities with the unauthorised fencing at the last two PI’s, but both Inspectors, Slade (told the community she would apply costs if the word common was mentioned), and Beckett refused to hear any issues to do with the common land even though my claimed path ran for the most part over it. Beckett even went so far as to apply costs against me at the request of HCC, because he said I had provided too much evidence, evidence that they had seen before at the previous PI.

I also found that Broxhead Common is awarded as common land with no owner and used by a number of people, under the Tithe Apportionment Act 1847. It is a sec.193 LPA common protected by sec.194 LPA and sec.30 1876. Horse riders therefore have the rights to ‘air and exercise’ over the whole common. This makes all the sign posts Natural England are supposed to have authorised, illegal, because they request that horse riders keep to the bridleways on one, or deny their right entirely on the other?

If Natural England have authorised them I would please like to know why they think they are above the law?

If they have not, then the position is equally serious because it shows that HCC are maintaining, what seems to have become a habit, of making up the rules as they go along!

As to the land ownership, when I recently made enquiries from the Land Registry, asking them to send me pre-registration title deeds, I discovered that the conveyances containing the common land, went back no further than 1962. It seems to me that backed up by HCC, the LR have felt confident enough to issue Mr Whitfield, who purchased the land in 1970, with a certificate of ownership which he did not apply for until 2004!! When I pointed out that the land was awarded under the Tithe Apportionment Act 1847, they said it was too long ago and fifteen years was a good root of title. I must say a good many of our laws pre-date 1847 and are still in force so this makes no sense to me, but it may be of use for you to know should you make enquiries. LR ref. SH6984/A/239/JP/WY CT6.

My third thing, is a matter I have been enquiring about for some months, through my MP. That is the wholesale fencing of our common lands on application by Wildlife Trusts, encouraged it seems by Natural England. At the last count earlier this year it appears at least 50 applications to fence common land have been approved by the Planning Inspectorate at Public Inquiry, even in the face of the change of character to the landscape, the obstruction to rights of access from any point and the removal of the traditional protection by the balance occasioned because the owner cannot fence the common, owing to the rights of the commoners, and the commoners cannot fence it because they do not own it; and most importantly the application for HLS funding in order to do so. It is my understanding that

“Measures under the EC Rural Development Policy are only available for applicants engaged in 'farming', and are therefore inapplicable if a common is not put to an agricultural use. The determining factor here is the economic use to which commoners put their rights, rather than the nature of the rights themselves - only common rights holders who are registered as farmers for the receipt of European Community subsidies can claim agri-environment payments under schemes such as ESA, ELS or HLS. It follows that agri-environment schemes such as HLS have no potential application for the management of 'recreational' commons or those whose primary feature is (paradoxically) their high nature value rather than their value as an agricultural resource." (Rodgers)

Broxhead is one such common and yet there have been expensive consultant fees concerned with public consultation over land which the public have no legal interest in, and which took place without any prior consultation with myself as Hon Sec for the BCA, or the commoners themselves?

I do hope you are able to take these issues where they belong in the High Court of Justice. I realise that there are too many legal questions involved for even the Chief Executive of Natural England to resolve.

Our Government has pledged a policy of openness, transparency and accountability for local and central government and I have no reason to doubt their intention to see the law is applied.

In a recent speech to the Institute for Government, Lord Neuberger said “We must always bear in mind that the ability to hold the Executive to account is essential to the rule of law: it protects citizens from administrative excess and ensures that the Executive adheres to the law. It is equally essential for the maintenance of Parliamentary Sovereignty.”

Says Linda WrightSays Linda Wright

We moved to a Shropshire location a year ago having surveyed the local OS map and noted the significant number of bridleways around the property. Sadly the map appears a total fiction. Scarce any of the bridleways are usable ........... read more

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