Hard work pays off for Shelford and District Bridleways Group following the upgrade of two footpaths linking three villages.
Cambridgeshire’s Shelford and District Bridleways Group began working on an application for a Modification Order to upgrade two local footpaths more than seven years ago, in 2006. The group wanted equestrian rights granted on the two paths that had been historically ridden on.
Lynda Warth, from the SDBG explained: “At the start we thought we had a cast iron case – a footpath which we knew had been used by cyclists and horses for years, as our local farmer used to cycle down it to the Home Guard meetings in the next village during the war!”
However, the group were soon to learn that things were not totally straightforward. It turned out that statements had been deposited by local landowners, requiring them go back further in time when collating their user evidence.
The group set to work and found plenty of evidence from older residents, and even took the precautionary step of getting some of the oldest evidence sworn in front of a Notary, showing how serious and committed they were about having these paths upgraded. They also managed to get statements from former local riders, now living as far away as America and South Africa, to help strengthen their case.
When the time came, the County Council agreed to make an order at bridleway status for one of the paths, although they rejected the application for the other path linking Sawston with the Rowley Lane track on the grounds of insufficient evidence.
SDBG did not agree with this ruling and enlisted the help of Dr Phil Wadey, who was the BHS Regional Access and Bridleways Officer for the East of England at the time. Dr Wadey helped the group appeal to the Secretary of State under the Schedule 14 Appeal Process, and they were successful in getting the Secretary of State to direct that a second order (this time at restricted byway status) be made, although following this it was the Bridleways Group that was then responsible for taking the application forward rather than the Council.
Unfortunately a number of local residents and landowners objected to the applications to upgrade which resulted in a Public Inquiry. SDBG were assisted by the BHS who provided representation for the group at the Inquiry and ensured that the group had everything to hand – photographs, measurements, witnesses, and copious copies of everything in the correct files. Preparation was the key.
The inquiry into the two routes took place in June 2012. It was not well attended by objectors, but with SDBG having collected so much user evidence and being so well prepared, the Inspector confirmed the order for restricted byway, and proposed to modify the bridleway order to restricted byway status. On 9 October 2013, after a further round of written representations, he confirmed the original bridleway order at bridleway status. This meant that the two paths were now on the definitive map, proving and protecting the existence of equestrian rights!
Lynda spoke of the new paths: “Our success has made us realise that we can make a difference, it takes a while but you get there in the end. We’re now planning two events to celebrate our success, one to thank everyone who supported us, and another with our horses where we plan to ride on our new bridleway to the pub in Babraham, to celebrate the fact that now we legally can!
“These routes are so strategically important for more access – we have already been given permissive access over a path which could potentially link our new bridleway with the miles of off-road access afforded by the Roman Road – we just need one missing link which we are working on with fingers firmly crossed.”
Dr Wadey said: “This is a tremendous success for a hardworking and enthusiastic bridleways group. Their diligence in collecting evidence and perseverance when initially rebuffed means that equestrians in the area will have these routes permanently. They learnt quickly from their advisors at the appeal and inquiry stages, which will certainly help with their future applications. Well done!”
Lynda also said of the continuing access work of the SDBG: “We have commented on two Local Development Plans, pointing out to the Councils that they are not making the provision for horse riders which they are obliged to do under National Planning Policies. South Cambridge is growing at a phenomenal pace and we need to be innovative to find access opportunities which are not obvious to non-riders and we are working hard with other user groups to promote tolerance, understanding and cooperation so that we can all benefit from the limited resources available. The user evidence of local cyclists was very valuable to us in our successful Modification Order application.”