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Public Rights of Way update

As requested at last night's Parish Council meeting here is a summary from Gail Johnson on the PROW in Bighton, especially the concerns expressed over access to Sutton Wood

Public Rights of Way Update for Bighton PC – September 2021

1. Access to and within Sutton Woods

1.1. Summary of current position:

· Signs have been erected in the woods on informal paths indicating no public right of way, walking, cycling or horse riding.

· It is believed that one or two of the new owners would be happy for local people to continue to use the informal paths in their part of the woods, but we are not sure who the other owners are.

· There is also no guarantee that when the woods are sold on that new owners would be willing to allow continued access.

· Mr Wilson has stopped up the entrance to his land from the top of Northside Lane with heras temporary fencing with barbed wire and erected ‘private’ signs preventing local people from using his field margin to access the woods (on foot, horseback or by cycle) as they have done for over 20 years.

· Members of the public can still access the woods via a footpath located further down the hill, but this is for walkers only.

This has raised the question as to whether Definitive Map Modification Orders (DMMO) should be submitted to enable continued use of the woods and access. I would recommend that the woods and the field access are treated as separate issues.

I have looked at historical maps and consulted with two independent experts from the British Horse Society plus HCC. The advice received from all three is that submitting user evidence based on the 20 year rule is the best way forward for both the woods and the field as there is insufficient historical evidence to support what appears to be old routes on the historical maps. The 20 year rule is unaffected by the 2026 deadline for submitting claims for historical routes pre-dating 1949.

In summary, the law states that:

“Section 31 of the Highways Act 1980 provides that where a way, other than a way of such a character that use of it could not give rise at common law to any presumption of dedication, has been actually enjoyed by the public, as a right and without interruption, for a period of 20 years, the way is deemed to have been dedicated as a highway unless there is sufficient evidence that the landowner demonstrated no intention during this period to dedicate the route. The 20 year period applies retrospectively from the date on which the right of the public to use the way was brought into question.”

User evidence is needed to show that the route was used for at least 20 years measured back from when use was brought into question (whether by the landowner stopping use or by someone applying for a modification order, or some other means), was use ‘as of right’, and was by members of ‘the public’. *

*Ref: Rights of Way – Restoring the Record by Sarah Bucks and Phil Wadey

I would suggest we work on a date of January 2021 as the commencement of retrospective measurement as signs were erected in both the field and the woods in early 2021.

Because of the age of some of the people in the area who have used routes in and around the woods for over 20 years, it was agreed at the last PC meeting that user evidence should be collected as soon as possible. I have obtained the official map and user evidence form from Hampshire County Council. I have also established a WhatsApp group of people who have indicated interest in submitting their comments. As there are two issues (access to the woods from Northside Lane using the field margin and routes within the woods) the intention would be to ask people to complete two sets of forms.

1.2. Next steps:

· To send out the form and map to interested parties requesting them to draw on the map the routes they use, complete and sign both the evidence form and map, returning to me as a co-ordinator.

· Councillor McCowen to speak to Mr Wilson to better understand why he has taken the action he has after such a long time.

· To try and identify the new owners of the woods.

· To arrange a meeting with interested local residents to discuss the completion of the forms and to assess the impact of not being able to use access from Northside Lane. It is important that this meeting is not viewed as collaborative as it could jeopardise a potential public inquiry which would view this as coercion.

· To agree, through the PC process, when, and if, DMMOs need to be submitted.

· If it is agreed that user evidence forms do need to be submitted then the process will be to:

a. Decide in whose name the DMMO/s are being submitted – it is recommended by the experts that this should be done in the name of an organisation – in this case the Parish Council – and not an individual as the address details of the organisation/person submitting the DMMO will need to be publically displayed.

b. Obtain a reference from the Mapping Office of HCC to be included on each form.

c. Inform HCC of the submission, using a standard form.

d. Inform the landowners, using a standard form, that a DMMO has been submitted – if these people cannot be easily identified then notices are to be erected on the routes.

e. Once a DMMO has been submitted then it is generally taking 10 years for HCC to process a claim. There is, however, provision to speed up a claim by the claimant appealing to the Secretary of State to intervene.

1.3. Some of the pros and cons of submitting a DMMO are:


It helps protects access to routes that people have walked, ridden and cycled for more than 20 years and future proofs access. The routes in the woods have been used by people for hundreds of years.


It risks upsetting landowners who may take further action by blocking up informal paths and current access points to and from the woods other than the legally established footpaths.

It may take 10 years or more to resolve the issue which may not be in favour of local residents (you need to take into account that there are already two, possibly three, footpaths that cross Mr Wilson’s field which it could be argued provide similar access to the currently blocked pathway from Northside Lane. HCC would consider this in its assessment and the Secretary of State would take it into account should it progress to public inquiry).

2. Ford Lane (Katy Neville’s) – T class highway

Councillor McCowen undertook to speak to the landowner (Mr Morgan-Giles) to request his help in removing a fallen tree that was blocking the lane. It has now been cleared and our thanks goes to Mr Morgan-Giles, Cllr McCowen and also to Andrew White for helping to clear some of the debris.

A ‘T’ Class Highway is recorded on HCC’s List of Streets which means that it is maintainable at public expenses. Also known as an ORPA (Other Route for Public Access). In practice, HCC will generally not spend money on maintaining these routes because of their limited financial resources.

3. The Broads

Earlier in the year HCC volunteers cut back the vegetation along RB 718 (Bighton Dean Lane). The majority of the vegetation cut back on RB 719 (Gullet Wood Lane) was undertaken by Rob Singleton. I did thank both parties at the time. However, the vegetation along RB 718 has grown back and requires further work to make it passible as well as helping to allow the surfaces to dry out. Amy Douglas and myself will try and clear some of the vegetation in the next few weeks, but would welcome additional help.

Repairs are required to the surface of RB 718 (Bighton Dean Lane) due to significant water retention caused by vehicle use.

4. Bowers Grove Lane – ‘T’ Class highway

Local volunteers have cut back the vegetation along Bowers Grove Lane that runs along the boundary of Bighton and Ropley to enable walkers, cyclists and horse riders access to a circular loop that connects the metalled section of Bowers Grove Lane (junction with Barnetts Wood Lane) with Sutton Wood Lane. This work was instigated by similar issues that have arisen within Sutton Wood regarding restrictions being placed on access to the woods.

5. Volunteers

I would like to seek the support of the PC to establish a volunteer group to help maintain our rights of way within the Parish. Yet again, the Countryside Service budget is being cut making it even more important to make use of the services of the Lengthsman where possible to keep our public rights of way useable. The establishment of a group of willing volunteers to provide some of their time each year would supplement the efforts of the Lengthsman and help to maintain this valuable community asset which would otherwise be lost to nature and natural erosion.

Gail Johnson

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