Footpaths at Cleeve, North Somerset, saved from alteration

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Cleeve Parish Council, a member of the Open Spaces Society, and our local correspondent for North Somerset, John Ives, have succeeded in getting an Inspector to reject a proposal to move several footpaths at Main Road, Cleeve, two miles north-east of Congresbury.

Originally the highway authority, North Somerset District Council, sought to overcome a longstanding anomaly on the definitive (official) map by diverting a disputed path line onto the path which had been regularly used by the public for many years. This latter path had its termination point marked with a fingerpost since 1995. This proposal was supported by the parish council and the Open Spaces Society.

The landowner objected and put forward an alternative plan which included diverting two other paths as well, which North Somerset councillors promoted after overruling their officer’s recommendation. The council therefore made a diversion order. There were objections so the matter was referred to the Planning Inspectorate for a decision.

The objectors argued that all the paths must pass all the legal tests for diversions or else the whole application must fall. The inspector, Mr Roger Pritchard, ruled that one of the paths failed the test for path changes, that the ‘new termination point must be substantially as convenient’, ie just as good, as the existing one. This meant that he could not confirm the whole order.

John Ives commented: ‘This decision confirmed a principle implied by case law [R (on the application of Connaughton) v West Dorset District Council [2002] All ER (D) 392] that, when considering any diversion application, inspectors are encouraged not just to look at the diversion itself but to take a wider view. This includes understanding the reasons why walkers use the whole of a particular path not just the bit being diverted.’

In this case the inspector decided that a new termination point included in the order took walkers a considerable distance away from an ‘intended destination-point’, viz a garden centre, and failed the termination-point test. Therefore he did not confirm the whole order.

John commented further: ‘This is an excellent decision which highlights the danger of landowners “going for broke” with multi-path applications, and it also includes some useful direction relating to the consequences of diversion applications on people’s overall journey.’

Cleeve Parish Council commented to John: ‘The parish council is very pleased with the outcome and would like to thank you for all your hard work which is much appreciated.’

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