NEWS !!!! BNCT member and Buxton resident, Roy Wheeler took the Norfolk County Council to court in an attempt to get something done about the alleged obstructions on Brampton footpath 12 – that is the route along the river through what is known as the Island. I take my hat off to Roy for having the guts to stand up for what is right as any walker of this footpath could attest (unless they’re employed by the Council) however I sadly have to report that all his efforts came to nought. In a long hearing earlier this week which kept Norwich Magistrates sitting well beyond their normal business hours Roy was confronted by a Solicitor acting for the Council and a Barrister for the landowner. Roy represented himself well but the Magistrates found against him. This is not the place to rehash the arguments or even report the proceedings as it is done and dusted and we have to move on.
If you do not know this path you could do worse than viewing it here on You Tube, an opportunity kindly provided by the landowner himself who posted it. This was not shown in Court; I wish it had been.
We are left with a barely usable path that I fear will lead to an accident and being so close to water that could be very serious indeed. I do accept that it is passable with extreme care and the right footwear. The improved weather will also help.
In a spirit of compromise and a genuine desire to try and move things along I would now like to see all parties getting around the table. This would include the landowner and Norfolk County Council Highways Department. I am also prepared to publish any statement from either party on here in the interests of balance and I will give equal prominence to any reply from either party received. I also recently offered, in case it would help, to facilitate round table discussions between the landowner, the Highways and local user groups with a view to reaching a compromise that enables the path to be open in such a way that the landowner can still enjoy his Island.
I did this in a private capacity and it is therefore I, as author, and not BNCT or Brampton Parish Council who is responsible for the initiative. It was a genuine attempt to move things forward and resolve issues. I can report that I did make this offer privately before going public with it and although I have still not heard as much as a whistle from the landowner NCC have been very positive and I have assisted in facilitating them access to the area so that repairs can be made. At this stage I do not know what those repairs will consist of but I do see this as a very positive thing.
I do not want to go back over old ground; from here I want to go forward so I will start by saying that I personally have no problems with gates on this land although I know that some do. Providing they are in keeping with the landscape, moderately signed so as not to cause offence or alarm to users and most importantly unlocked they are fine by me. I go so far as to say that were it my land I might be tempted to put gates there myself. The magistrates also seem to have accepted their existence. I’m not sure I would festoon them with quite so many notices as is currently the case.
Then there is the footpath itself; that is a much more troubling issue as in places it is not a metre wide as it should be and the fence which has been erected forces users of the path to go dangerously close to the river and in one place the bank has degraded into the river so that the path disappears briefly. I would really like to think that this breach is to be repaired? I note that the Highways Authority said in Court that they are not responsible for repairing erosion but it must be repaired by somebody if the path is to be used safely. Perhaps we should ask the Environment Agency to repair it if Norfolk is not going to do this. I am however hopeful that the NCC will do this work along with any other repairs.
However before considering any repair I want to just quickly look at the route itself. Much was made in the recent hearing of the so called “desire line” being the route followed. Well to my mind the desire line is going to be the river bank now as the fence forces people to use that route and deprives them of the option of walking parallel to the river but slightly away from the bank which is the route recalled, I remember, by those giving evidence at the public enquiry which established the footpath in the first place. The definitive Order map is, I readily admit, not very clear on this point but the line can clearly be seen drawn parallel to the river. It can be argued that there is a clear but small gap between the line and the bank on this map.
In the interests of compromise the route between the river and the fence would be fine if it wasn’t so wet and dangerous so I hope that there are plans to improve that aspect. The provision of boards for example would be an improvement as would safety equipment like lifebelts at the points where the path and the river come together. I was intrigued in the court to learn that the decking, originally part of the building constructed illegally on the Island until retrospective planning permission was obtained, had somehow morphed into being an aid to walking the path. There is, I think, a case to be made to agree with the landowner and the County Council on that; so can we now expect that boards or decking will be extended along the rest of the path?
There has been discussion by some about the fencing itself which does I believe force a desire line contrary to the original inspectors intentions but be that as it may I am intrigued by its purpose. I understand from what has been said in public that it is to deter Deer, Muntjac in particular. I was unaware that these creatures would swim across or along the river to get on to the Island but if it is a problem then I think we should respect the landowners right to do something about it. However some species of Deer will easily jump the gates and fence, I am however advised that Muntjac will get under a wire fence unless it is dug into the ground like rabbit fencing. The fence is, I believe, there to protect the bee hives but I don’t understand why the fencing needs to be where it is along the entire route of the path; would it not be cheaper for all concerned and also more effective to fence in the hives rather than the entire Island? I also can’t get away from the fact that hives can clearly be seen on heather moors, field edges where oil seed rape and beans are grown, also in orchards; but never have I seen any with fencing around them so I am interested in this apparent problematic behaviour by the local Muntjac Deer. As an aside, I have seen Deer a-plenty in Brampton but never a Muntjac although I cannot say in all honesty that I have actually been out looking for them – it would be fascinating to see their behaviour around the hives; perhaps they have been captured on the CCTV that the signs say are on the Island? I do however uphold and respect the landowners right to erect the fence on his land if that is what he wants to do so long as it still allows a metre wide safe and usable footpath.
It is, when all said and done private land and it is the landowners fence; I for one believe walkers must respect it and use the path provided so long as it is maintained, made safe and free of overhanging vegetation. I would also like to see safety equipment provided either by the landowner, the highways authority or some other public body if the current path is to be the one used. Given the path’s condition I would also like to see warnings posted (until improvement) that the path may be impassable at times and should only be attempted by people wearing the correct footwear which should be defined in the notice. I think a time-scale for improvements should also be agreed by all parties; I wonder if that can be negotiated? I don’t even want to contemplate what would happen or who would be liable if a walker fell in the river and drowned as a result of its current conditions; we really must try and do something now to improve things for the sake of everyone. Also if anyone slipped and injured themselves on the decking, which I am told is a treacherous surface when wet (although I have no personal experience to confirm that), who indeed would be liable then? The answer must surely be either the owner who built it or the County Council (Taxpayer) who accepted it as OK.
So would the landowner and the Highways Authority be prepared to meet with local user groups to develop plans for a more harmonious existence and an improvement to Footpath 12 which is here to stay? The current situation is that we have had a public enquiry to add the footpath to the legal record map, from evidence dating back over 70 years, but no easily used path on the ground. I feel that there must be compromise possible – we should at least try as I’m sure this situation is one that no party can really want to continue.
No doubt the next suggestion will be the re-watering of the old river course and I think that would be great but bridges would need to be erected at either end of the Island to allow through passage – a point that I, for one, will strongly make to the EA.
Please can we all take a step back and talk to one another?