LETTERS of support for a Somerset footpath campaigner have flooded in from all over the UK. Marlene Masters has been campaigning for more than two decades to get Somerset County Council to remove a footpath in High Ham from its official maps.
The Western Gazette reported earlier this month that Mrs Masters, of Yarlington, had applied for a judicial review to force the council to remove the path which runs past the home of the late Archie and Ivy Peppard. Now supporters of her 22-year campaign have come forward, many of whom have endured similar legal battles with their local government.
Jean Underdown, from the Vale of Glamorgan in Wales, attended the public inquiry which found in Mrs Masters' favour in 2014. She said: "Mrs Masters tied the council up in knots by her superior knowledge, which they lacked. The council looked like bumbling fools, which they are, and they made the lives of the Peppards a total misery. "Do taxpayers understand how much money is wasted by these incompetent fools in council offices up and down the country? The law needs to change."
The Peppard saga began in 1959, when the council claimed a path that ran outside the Peppards' cottage as a public right of way. The Peppards began their own legal challenge in 1973, with Mrs Masters taking up their cause in 1994.
Alan Bowers, from Bedfordshire, described the council's actions as "vindictive" towards law-abiding citizens, and said that its actions should be examined on a national scale. He said: "I and many others have experienced many years of distress in trying to obtain justice regarding unlawful rights of way. Our plight is not a vote-winning issue and is ignored by those in power, who are able to right the wrongs. "Marlene Masters is an inspiration to us all: over the years she has helped many rights of way sufferers throughout the land tirelessly, and at her own expense."
Roger Duffin, of Wethersfield in Essex, described the legal battle as "a criminal waste of public money" and accused the council of "obstruction". He said: "Having allowed this case to drag on for so long, the right and proper thing to do would be to spend the relatively small amount of time required to delete this path and then set about resolving the other 300 cases with as much speed as possible. "The fact that a member of the public should have to seek a judicial review to achieve justice is saddening. The lack of transparency over the number and nature of latest objections, and the time taken, can only foster speculation at the council's true motives in dragging this case out. It would appear to have little to do with justice or democracy."
Mrs Masters said that she hopes that the judicial review will finally put an end to this long legal battle. She said: "I have been successful in the High Court in 2012, and successful in the public inquiry in 2014. "There can be no question that the council has failed in its statutory duty and allowed the opposed orders to gather dust, while making orders to 'upgrade' footpaths to restricted byways, or add footpaths or bridleways. Maybe it will be third time lucky?"
A council spokesman said: "There are two sides to this and we have a duty to progress both applications to amend the definitive map and the submission of opposed orders. This is done in parallel to make sure that neither duty is neglected. "We would stress there is no deadline for submission of opposed orders so we are not failing in our statutory duty. We remain committed to submitting the outstanding opposed orders as soon as possible, but these cases are complex and the staff resources available are under increasing pressure. "We would again like to make it clear that the High Ham footpath deletion order has attracted objections from other parties – not from the county council. Ultimately it will be up to the Planning Inspectorate to decide the outcome of the case. "From our point of view, the judicial process is an unwelcome distraction for staff who are trying to progress matters. As long as the process continues it will continue to hamper resources and cost the taxpayer more money." See the article in the Western Gazette here.
Marlene Masters takes Somerset Council to task
A SOUTH Somerset campaigner has criticised the decision to remove well-established trees in Long Sutton to open up a contested bridleway. Somerset County Council has cut down trees at Kingsmoor Drove, which have stood there since 1989, in an attempt to clear the bridleway leading from Long Load to Ilchester. But Marlene Masters, who made her name campaigning about a disputed footpath in High Ham, has attacked what she has branded a "bridleway to nowhere". Council contractors have cleared vegetation, installed a culvert, felled the trees and ground down the stumps at a cost of less than £5,000, according to a council spokesman. Mrs Masters argues that consultation about the bridleway took place in the 1970s when the Ilchester bypass was being built. She said: "There was a public opportunity to claim a footpath or bridleway status when the proposal of the Ilchester dual carriageway bypass was being discussed. But no-one did, not even the parish council or the county council. The law says 'silence is acquiescence'. No claim of a bridleway at the time means that legally there is no bridleway there." Mrs Masters added that, even if the bridleway did exist, it is impossible for riders or walkers to currently use it because of the traffic. She said: "Unless traffic lights are made available and the central reservation removed by County Highways to allow the 'alleged ancient historic bridleway' to cross over the four lanes, then there is no way the riders can continue through. They have no permission to use the over-bridge and ride a horse under the RNAS Yeovilton flight path." Mrs Masters has now applied for the bridleway to be deleted from the county council's official maps.
The council has said that the removal of the trees was undertaken as part of its statutory duty and that the scope had been agreed with the landowner in October. It added that "the existence of the bridleway is not seriously disputed" following a public enquiry nine years ago, which was upheld at a High Court appeal.
A spokesman said: "Previous attempts to formally divert the bridleway around a woodland that obstructs the way have unfortunately failed. "We had been served a Highways Act notice by a third party to clear the woodland obstruction, and if we fail to remove the obstruction the matter could be referred to the Magistrates Court. "The bridleway still remains obstructed by the A303 near Ilchester and we continue to look at options with Highways England to resolve this. The nearby over-bridge is only available for pedestrians. There are no public access rights for cyclists or horse-riders over this bridge.The works will provide for a more direct through route for walkers between Long Load and Ilchester." The council has not confirmed the identity of the third party who served the notice for the trees to be removed.
Ramblers,Open Spaces,CPRE all support Council Spending on Public Footpaths. They demand that councils spend time and money on public enquiries to find 'lost' footpaths They are charities which ask for public contributions to support their demands. Ramblers have just won a £250,000 grant, again generated from public spending from the Postcode Lottery.
DERBYSHIRE County Council has been accused of building a "footpath to nowhere". The path, which cost the taxpayer £20,000,has been built on Cat and Fiddle Lane, in West Hallam, and leads on to a field which doesn't have a visible path across it. It's not unusual for rights-of-way leading across fields to be indistinct but, at the point where the new path enters, there is no footpath to move ahead on at all. People have also been indignant about the scale of what has been built.
Comment On The Path To Nowhere
A Ramblers Comment in the Shields Gazette 19/1/16 and IF response (bold).
I don't really agree with the comments on this, though I do share some of the concerns about how much money has been spent in reinstating this public right of way. The Council spent the money because the Ramblers insisted on 'public' rights. Rights for Rights sake! No good trying to pass the blame after the event. The Ramblers and Open Spaces 'find' unused paths.They do not have any criteria for 'claims' which may or may not be proved correct.Councils also do not use any filter system for claims and are legally obliged to investigate,pay for public enquiries and consider objections at every stage regardless of cost.
This is an old footpath, which has been put back where it should have always been. Why? When it was an 'old' footpath it probably had a necessary use. To walk to work...no road,no cars....Why would it be necessary or advisable to put back a path which has fallen out of use, in an unnecessary and dangerous place just for the sake of it? Times change! Shall we reinstate work houses and reinstate coal fires in every situation? Shall we insist that horses and carriages have the right to use motor ways because they went that way in the past?
If you walk along the path from Haggs Farm, you will now be able to cross the road and continue along the path to Kirk Hallam. Previously, you had no choice but to walk down Cat & Fiddle Lane, with no pavement, and with heavy lorries passing by every other minute, till you got to the next path. Having done this on several occasions, it was a potential death-trap. Well insist on a pavement then or insist that the lorries go a different way....or just walk somewhere else!!!
The fact is that it is on the definitive map of footpaths, and is shown on every Ordnance Survey map. Which is,of course,why the Council had no choice but to bow to pressure. That does not make it right or sensible. Applications can also be made to remove paths from the definitive map.
I know that in the past I have spent a good amount of time looking for it. It should never have been blocked off, though it may well have been decades ago that this happened. Many things happened 'decades' ago this doesn't mean they are worth resurrecting. A group of people ( not even necessarily local and probably in single figures) should not be able to dictate to the wider 'public' where their councils MUST spend public money. The benefit to 'the general public' is questionable.
Nationally, the Ramblers Association is campaigning to ensure that public rights of way are not lost for ever, which is what will happen if they do not complain. I personally raised this missing path under the Ramblers' Big Pathwatch campaign, and I know that it has been raised by others too. The path is not a "footpath to nowhere" - it is a path to Kirk Hallam, and I suspect it will be well used by walkers. As previously pointed out, blanket claiming of unsuitable paths is a waste of public resources. This path has a limited use to a small number of local people, (if any and all 'walkers') There is only a 'suspicion' that it will be well used..... A lot of money to waste on a 'suspicion'!
..............And that's just what pressure groups like the ramblers are insisting upon!
Would you like this in your garden? This footpath is shown by Open Spaces as an example of what is happening when Councils make cuts to footpath maintenance. This is the sort of vandalism and rubbish that homeowners who are burdened with Rights of way through their gardens are expected to put up with. If you received a letter out of the blue saying that the council were claiming a Right of Way through your garden would you wonder why Open Spaces and Ramblers were supportive of this? If you had this sort of rubbish and fly tipping happening in your garden would you not want the footpath diverted. Would you expect anyone to object? Well Open Spaces and Ramblers do. They object on 'historical' grounds.....two hundred years ago there was a footpath for a few village farm workers and it went through your home....it got 'lost' and now that it's been found it belongs to us and 'everyone' else in the world and tough luck if it wrecks your garden,your privacy,your security and costs you thousands of pounds and years to defend. We will also take 'all of your life' too because we will continue to object for years because we know that the public purse will fund lots of research and public enquiries(which we don't have to pay for) and you will eventually run out of money and energy to defend your home. Oh and while we are at it we will make out that we are the 'goodies' and that those who are forced to defend their human rights and their homes are the 'baddies' who are denying us our 'rights'......win win........oh and shall we ask the public for some more funds to help us?.....what a good idea!!!
A Letter To Open Spaces
Following this blogby Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society, here is The Other side of the Story
A Letter to Open Spaces in answer to Kate Ashbrook
I almost agree with everything you say but Open Spaces seems blind to the small number of people who Are only asking that Public Rights of way should not go through their gardens,homes or private property. Open Spaces are complaining about the state of paths so surely you can see that this is the sort of behavior that you are asking some unfortunate people to put up with through their own homes.
My argument is that you could ask Councils to spend their limited resources on the vast majority of paths that are established and used.....even claim some of the so called 'lost' ones but just drop persecuting those burdened with paths that cause them loss of privacy,security,stress and bankruptcy. How can you possibly justify Bedfordshire CC spending £3000 on a London Barister against an old man who has lost all his money and is defending his right to privacy on his own land and only asking that the public use a perfectly good public bridleway which runs parallel about 50yards away. I just don't get it. If you mirror those sort of cases the money that could be saved would amount to thousands. I suppose I am saying that in defending what you consider to be public 'rights' that are actually no more than 'rights for rights sake' you are actually wasting council resources that could be used elsewhere.
I was accused today by the sentence " ......unlike you,I only want what I am entitled too......". He is an Open Spaces supporter. How dare he suggest that I am trying to claim anything that I am not entitled too! I AM entitled to privacy in my own home. It is OS and people like him who are doing all the claiming! Sadly he is 'blinkered' by the attitude of OS and other pressure groups who put out that they have a monopoly on what is right and just.
I am not Claiming anything....I am defending my right to my own property bought and paid for with my own money. ( which is not on the definitive map and didn't have a ROW when I bought it 17 years ago) Who would not defend their home? Who would not consider it tantamount to legal theft? I am not claiming anything of 'yours' .....'you' are claiming something that belongs to me! I do not want problems of rubbish and holliganism in my own garden. How is it that I am perceived as the 'militant' one when actually I am the 'victim'. If only OS and Ramblers could see that by helping us to get legislation changed so that footpaths do not go through gardens, councils could save money by not having to support applications for ones that do.
Comments Holly 28/1/2016 Well done Ann for putting the situation so well. Unfortunately the OS supporter who was so rude to you and wishes to *Claim his rights* also blames the Councillors as he believes they are giving themselves pay rises instead of using the public purse for what is intended. No idea if this is true or not as I am not a resident of Bedfordshire, Maybe the Councillors of Bedfordshire should contact OS supporter Brian and discuss his issues with how the public purse is being spent on apparent Councillor pay rises.
Ann 29/1/2016 Thank you very much for your support Holly. It is encouraging that you noticed 'the tweet'. Quite out of order!
IF to the Rescue
We are all delighted to hear the brilliant news that Mr and Mrs Millership have been successful in objecting to a right of way claim on their property. Mrs Millership first contacted IF after seeing a Daily Mail news article. It was a desperate situation requiring an immediate response. Mrs Millership was put in touch with those who had the expertise to help and many people pulled out all the stops,and personal resources, to offer assistance. The full order decision can be found here. Mr and Mrs Millership say:
We have suffered almost 4 years of stress from the Lake District National Park Authority after an application made by Colton Parish Council to turn our access drive into a PROW. We had lived in this delightful part of the country on friendly terms with neighbours and local villagers in the nearby village of Finsthwaite. A small group of these people, for no reason turned against us and made the application. We were advised by the LDNPA of this application and following a meeting of the ROW Committee in July 2014 this was passed. We objected together with our nearest neighbour who jointly owns the access way with ourselves. From then on we suffered harassment and misery from the Countryside Access Advisor of the LDNPA who whilst appearing to give advice simply turned everything against us. We were totally ignorant of what we were facing and we were not prepared to spend what retirement savings we had on greedy legal operatives. We were at the end of our tether when the letter from Ann appeared in the Daily Mail. We contacted her and she referred us to Marlene who gave us a lot of help and information and steadied the boat. Then we had a visit from Bernard (Hones) who guided us all the way. It became clear that we would not be able to cope by ourselves. Marlene was unable to come and help us because of family commitments but sent us Andy Dunlop instead only 2 weeks before the Inquiry. He took the weight off our shoulders. The Inquiry lasted 2 days and our eyes were opened by the people known to us that were not prepared to tell the truth. Andy Dunlop was superb and we would not have got this result without his help.
We realise now that 4 years and our problems were minor compared with others. The IF campaign must continue and if we can help we will do so because without their help we would not be in this position.
Ann Scott24/1/2016 16:59:24 Hopefully this will be the end of a traumatic four years and your Parish Council will gracefully concede defeat and not feel the need to waste further public money by appealing the decision. We eagerly await confirmation of this order.
4/2/2016 IF members travelled to London to support Debbie and her family at a Judicial review. We were all left stunned at the speed and outcome of the proceedings. It took under 20minutes for the judge to read out his prepared decision.There was no opportunity to elaborate on the submitted skeleton argument or challenge the decision. There was,in fact, no advantage for anyone's attendance at the court proceedings. The order decision could have been posted. Debbie lost her judicial review. £3000 costs. I hope the two representatives of the County Council who need not have been there and merely observed for 20mins enjoyed their day out at Debbie's expense. I have now learned that the law takes no account of safety,privacy,distress,crime etc when considering public rights of way claims. There appears to be no such thing as natural Justice. Public rights of way laws are ill conceived and must be changed because it is these very laws which are upheld by the law makers who have made them.The only way to 'win' is to identify an error of law. It seems that 'true' justice is neither affordable or accessible to 'ordinary' people.