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A beautiful footpath near Dorking, in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, is to be moved. The decision was made by a planning inspector, Mr Michael Aldous, following a public inquiry last July. The Open Spaces Society was represented as an objector by its local member Michèle Kohler.
The footpath, number 111, ran for more than half a mile from north-east of the village of Westcott, alongside the Pipp Brook stream, through Milton Court Farm to join a public bridleway on the western outskirts of Dorking. It has been moved to a route along field edges to the north.
We argued that the existing route is the historic way and that it is a pleasant walk alongside the Pipp Brook and through the farm, with superior views. Arguments about threats to security and safety from the path running through the farmyard were unsubstantiated. Furthermore, the objectors feared that Surrey County Council’s longer-term aim was to convert the diverted footpath into a cycle route, which would be a suburban intrusion in the countryside and far less enjoyable for walkers.
The inspector dismissed the argument about the loss of a historic walking route, and considered that the public would not be inconvenienced by the change. He said he could not take account of the arguments regarding the cycle route.
Says Michèle Kohler: ‘This is a disappointing decision. We have lost a lovely, ancient path in beautiful surroundings. I feel that walkers will be shocked by what they see when, as seems likely, the path is upgraded to a bridleway so that it can be part of the National Cycle Network route 22.’
This decision shows how the law on moving public paths is weighted in favour of landowners and others who want to shift the routes, rather than the public who love the history, landscape and other features of the existing route.