The Downs Link is an important strategic route, open to all, linking the North Downs Way at St. Martha’s Hill, Surrey with the South Downs Way near Steyning, West Sussex, and on to Shoreham-by-Sea. In the main, the Downs Link is an off-road trail which follows disused railway lines, and is therefore a very safe and hugely popular route for all users, especially families with children.
However, there are two points on the route where the Downs Link crosses very busy, heavily trafficked A roads, and one of these is the A283 at Bramber. For many years the at-grade crossing has been considered dangerous to use, especially by those who for various reasons need a quieter, safer environment in which to cross the road e.g. the elderly, disabled, young children, and horse riders.
The ambition to create a safe alternative route was prioritised in the West Sussex Rights of Way Improvement Plan, and in view of this in June 2012 the West Sussex Local Access Forum (WSLAF), in partnership with West Sussex County Council (WSCC), South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA), and Bramber Parish Council started investigations to find a deliverable route.
One popular option which received a great deal of support from all involved, meant diverting the route to run down to the River Adur, under the road bridge, and the creation of a new link path on the north side of the A283 to rejoin the Downs Link at the site of the present at-grade crossing. In the past the complicated land ownership of the field on the north side, which has been divided up and sold in approximately 200 small plots, had deterred any progress. However, a breakthrough came when Tricia Butcher, Chairman of WSLAF at the time and the British Horse Society CABO for West Sussex, discovered that a grid of wide access routes existed over the field and that the company that owned these had recently been dissolved.
Spurred on by the support and generosity of the Passmore family the landowners to the south who kindly agreed to dedicate a Downs Link diversion to the Adur, and the agreement of WSCC who owned the land under the bridge, Tricia turned detective. Starting with the Official Receiver, inquiries continued via a liquidator, and the Bona Vacantia Division to the Treasury Solicitor’s Department who subsequently disclaimed the Crown’s title in the property which then ‘escheated’ to the Crown Estate. At all stages the support and advice freely given by those approached for help without doubt contributed greatly to a successful outcome for the project.
On legal advice the Crown Estate takes no action that might be construed as management, possession or ownership in relation to such property, and this opened the door to WSCC using its statutory powers to make an Order under the Highways Act 1980, Section 26 to create a bridleway route in the interests of the community.
At this time, the project also received substantial funding as one of the schemes in the SDNPA’s bid to the Department of Transport’s Cycle Ambition Scheme, and it was decided to link up the Downs Link project with the Steyning & District Community Partnership ‘Walk for All’ scheme to improve the existing footpath alongside the River Adur and make it accessible to more vulnerable users e.g. elderly, very young or those in wheelchairs. Both routes will be officially opened on Saturday 25th July.
It has taken 3 years, but the Downs Link now has a safe alternative A road crossing, which in the beginning nobody believed would be possible. This just goes to show that you should not be put off seeking improvement just because it is complicated and at times difficult.