Oxfordshire parish reopened

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‘Three and a half years of negotiation, and finally legal pressure on Oxfordshire County Council and on landowners, have reopened several kilometres of long-blocked public paths in the parish of Tetsworth, south Oxfordshire’, says Kate Ashbrook, our general secretary.

We’re pleased that footpath 14 can now be used without obstruction.

Kate adds: ‘Most people whizz past Tetsworth on the M40 in seconds, never noticing the spacious countryside south of the motorway. Here a gentle rise in the ground to a height of 800 metres gives panoramic views embracing the Chilterns to the east and the Berkshire Downs to the south.

‘Until this summer this was an almost closed countryside. Four of the paths leading into it were severely obstructed.  The sense of hostility to walkers and riders was palpable.’

The obstructions were two padlocked gates (on footpaths 22 and 71), a fence across bridleway 28, and an insurmountable stile on footpath 14.

It is a criminal offence to obstruct public paths, which are highways in law.  Oxfordshire County Council, the highway authority, has a legal duty to ensure that the paths are reopened. After reporting the problems to the council for more than three years without effect, the society’s general secretary, Kate Ashbrook, took legal action.

On 11 April Kate served four notices under section 130A of the Highways Act 1980 on Oxfordshire County Council. These required the authority to respond within one month, explaining what action it would take. If the matter was not resolved, Kate could apply to the magistrates’ court for an order requiring the council to act.

The authority responded within a month that it was communicating with the landowners concerned. And shortly after the result was: (1) the gate across footpath 17 had been unlocked; (2) a kissing-gate had been installed next to another locked gate across footpath 22; (3) the fence on bridleway 28 had been replaced by a bridle-gate, and (4) a proper stile had replaced the impossible one on footpath 14. All four paths may now be used without obstruction.

Says Kate: ‘It was worth threatening legal action to get these paths reopened. After years of inaction the council reacted swiftly to my notices. These paths are part of a network of routes to the south of the M40, offering pleasant walking and riding with fine views. They have been blocked for far too long, and it was high time they were reopened for all to enjoy.

‘The Open Spaces Society is prepared to take legal action in defence of people’s rights to use public paths.’

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