Ancient Lewes bridleway under attack again

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The ancient bridleway and popular bridleway from Lewes prison to Lewes racecourse and beyond is used by many walkers, equestrians and cyclists. It is one of the main ways Lewes residents and visitors access the South Downs. Now it is under attack again.

What has happened

Some years ago signs were erected, trying to stop people walking along the legal route of the bridleway, which goes to the right of the hedge in the picture (and not to the left, as the sign says). A fence was put up across the bridleway as well.

People put up with the diversion, partly because they had no choice and partly because the diversion was a minor one, but it was an indication of the landowner’s disregard for the law. But now the landowner wants more. The landowner tried to get a legal diversion but was unable to. The route was blocked off and a longer and ugly alternative road constructed. Not only is this road very ugly but it diminishes the fine view of the valley to the west. At the time of writing no planning permission had been applied for for this road and no application had been made to divert the bridleway. Signs erected by the county council were mutilated to point down the road rather than the right of way.

At some expense to the public the county council forced the owners to partially unblock the route. They replaced the mutilated sign and erected others. But the misleading sign shown in the picture above remains, the route is still blocked by a fence and at the south end of the road fencing has been erected which obstructs the legal route and seems to be designed to force users on to the road, see the picture below right. The fencing is across the line of the bridleway, which goes off to the left.

A small gap has been left. However this is probably not on the line of the route and is very narrow. A bridleway must be wide enough to allow two horses to pass each other easily, which means that a gap of at least 3 metres is needed. The legal route is also obstructed by a fence at the Lewes town/Hamsey border, although a gap has been left to the right. The landowner for the affected land, registered at the land registry, is Ann Ffitch-Heyes.

Why has this happened?

The landowner had already illegally diverted the bridleway so that their house could not be overlooked. A lot of money has clearly been spent on this further attempted diversion and we get a very strong impression that the owner wants to discourage people from using the bridleway.

It is hard to know why this would happen unless the owner has plans to develop the land or sell the land for development as houses or similar. Such a development in the national park would be catastrophic for one of the south downs’ greatest assets.

What can you do?

• Make sure that you use the legal right of way and not the new road. This does involve climbing the fence and walking to the west of the hedge at the racecourse, but if you prefer you can just walk the route that was open before.

• Ask the county council rights of way team to make available the whole of the definitive route of the bridleway by removing all the obstructions and to signpost it. Contact them at or phone 0345 6080 193.

• Tell them also that you want to be kept in touch if any application for a diversion of the route is put forward, so you can object.

• Ask Lewes district council to take planning enforcement action against the new road. Contact them via their web site or write to them at Southover House, Southover Road Lewes,East Sussex BN7 1AB. Tell them you want to be notified if any planning application is made so that you can object to it.

• Contact your local town, district and county council members and ask them to get involved.

• Raise this issue at any relevant local organisations you are a member of and ask them to take the issue up.

And more …

To the north of the racecourse buildings the bridleway has also been diverted but this is more complicated because neither the old nor the new route are on the map of rights of way. The Open Spaces Society has applied for the old route to be registered as a right of way. This will take up to 2 years to resolve. This is a different issue.

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