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The public inquiry, which opened in January, into the diversion of two footpaths across Harrow School grounds, ended this week. It lasted for nearly six days instead of the scheduled three. The inquiry was prolonged partly because of the number of objectors to the scheme. These included the Open Spaces Society, Ramblers, Harrow Hill Trust and many local people.
Harrow School wished to move public footpaths 57 and 58 which have for centuries run in a direct line across its grounds. Footpath 57 follows a north-south route between Football Lane and Pebworth Road. Unfortunately, the school built tennis courts across the path in 2003, instead of first moving the footpath. Local people wanted the path to be reopened but instead the school sought to move the path around the obstructions.
Footpath 58 runs in a direct line between the bottom of Football Lane and Watford Road, and the school has applied to move it to a zigzag route to avoid the current configuration of its sports pitches.
Harrow Council, instead of requiring the school to remove the obstructions in accordance with its duty under section 130 of the Highways Act 1980, agreed to move the paths, but because there were objections the matter was referred to the Planning Inspectorate.
At the public inquiry, the council and the school had legal representation, but the objectors represented themselves. Appearing as objectors at the inquiry were Kate Ashbrook of the Open Spaces Society and Ramblers, Gareth Thomas MP, Harrow Councillor Sue Anderson, Brent Councillor Keith Perrin, Paul Catherall of the Harrow Hill Trust and local residents Christopher Eley, Gaynor Lloyd, John Parker and Margaret Roake. Others had submitted written objections.
Says Kate Ashbrook, our general secretary who is also footpath secretary of the Ramblers Buckinghamshire, Milton Keynes and West Middlesex Area: ‘We are united in our wish to prevent the school from moving these popular footpaths from their ancient direct routes to suit its own convenience. The old routes have better views of Harrow-on-the-Hill one way and of the City of London the other.
‘They are shorter and have a sense of purpose, for those enjoying informal recreation and those using the paths to go to work or the shops.
‘We believe that, since the problems on these paths are of the school’s own making, it should resolve them by removing the obstructions rather than moving the paths.
‘We strongly hope that the inspector, Alison Lea, will find in our favour and that the paths will remain on their current routes,’ Kate concludes.