We have helped to save a 935-metre-long section of public bridleway across the grounds of Christ’s Hospital School, near Horsham in West Sussex.
Our local correspondent, Paul Brown, and society member Ruth Fletcher (of the Horsham District Cycling Forum) were among the objectors who fought the change at a public inquiry—and won.
The existing bridleway at Christ’s Hospital
The school had applied to the highway authority, West Sussex County Council, to divert the popular route across the playing field to a longer, inferior, path around the edge. The council agreed to make a diversion order, using special legislation for moving paths on school land (section 119B of the Highways Act 1980). The principal test which such a diversion order must meet is that it is necessary to move the path to protect pupils and staff from risks to their health and safety.
However, the school must be able to demonstrate that it has taken appropriate action to mitigate such risks, and that the diversion of the path would lead to a substantial improvement in that security.
Because the order was opposed, by the society, Horsham District Cycling Forum, Horsham District Council and local residents, the council had to refer it to the Planning Inspectorate to determine on behalf of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. A public inquiry was held last July.
The society argued that even if the bridleway was to be diverted, there would be no substantial improvement in school security and that the number of incidents at the school dating back to 2010 was insignificant. The evidence presented confirmed that the area has a low incidence of crime. Speaking at the inquiry, many residents who were path users confirmed the lack of incidents. Improvements to security have been implemented and more are planned, including an extension to CCTV systems.
The inspector, Susan Doran, agreed with the objectors and refused to confirm the order because she did not consider it would result in a substantial improvement in security. In reaching her decision, the inspector also considered the implications of the National Planning Policy Framework, revised in 2018, which seeks the protection and enhancement of public rights of way and to provide better facilities for users. The inspector’s decision can be found here.
Says Paul Brown: ‘While the Open Spaces Society recognises the need to secure some school premises by special diversion orders where public paths are close to the buildings or in a high crime area, and the necessary legal tests are met, we are pleased that this proposal to divert the bridleway has been rejected.
‘Not only did the school fail to provide evidence that the diversion was necessary, but also the alternative route would be disadvantageous, particularly to walkers and cyclists. They would have been constrained to a narrow, hedged way with restricted views. having lost the spectacular open space afforded by the existing route.’