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Local Ramblers and the Open Spaces Society have led a successful bid to prevent the closure of a public footpath across the grounds of Pipers Corner, the posh public school at Great Kingshill, near High Wycombe in Bucks. A public inquiry was held last December and the Planning Inspectorate has now published its decision.
The school persuaded Buckinghamshire County Council, the highway authority, to make a legal order, under special schools legislation, to close the 68-metre footpath which clips the north-east corner of the school property, on the grounds that it was the cause of criminal offences at the school. There were objections from the Ramblers, OSS and local people, so the matter was referred to the Planning Inspectorate to take the decision on behalf of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Peter Forrester, bursar of the £21,000-a-year girls’ school, and PC Gilbert, the business crime reduction and engagement adviser for Thames Valley Police, argued that offences had been committed in the school grounds, which could have been avoided if the footpath was not there. However, the inspector, Martin Elliott, considered that there was little evidence that incursions into the school had occurred from this footpath or that the footpath was the source of the crime.
The inspector also had to be satisfied that the school had taken sufficient measures to improve the security of the school, and that closure of the path would result in a substantial improvement in that security. He concluded that, since the fencing around the property was incomplete and inadequate, security would not be substantially improved by closing the path.
Finally, he had to consider whether there was a suitable alternative route for walkers. If the path were to be closed, walkers would have to go round two sides of a triangle, one side of which comprised Boss Lane. Mr Elliott was concerned about walkers’ safety on Boss Lane which is used as part of a one-way system, to drop off and pick up pupils, with vehicles sometimes travelling at speed, insufficent room for walkers to get out of the way, and poor visibility at the junction of Boss Lane and Pipers Lane. The existing route, on the other hand, provides a safe walking route.
For all these reasons, the inspector refused to confirm the order.
Bob Smith of High Wycombe, who represented the Ramblers at the public inquiry, hailed the outcome as ‘a resounding victory for local walkers and common sense’. He continued: ‘The school seemed to think it could get away with closing the path as a matter of course on minimum evidence. We were able to show that the path is important to the public and it is not contributing to the alleged crimes at the school nor compromising its security.
‘ It seems extraordinary that. at a time when it is slashing public expenditure, Bucks County Council should have wasted precious resources in promoting a flawed case,’ he concluded.