Virtue is its own reward?

A bridleway at Norton Malreward, Bath and North East Somerset, is saved from closure.
Norton Malreward is a small village about 6 miles south of the centre of Bristol, and just west of the A57. A riding route (part unclassified road, part BOAT, part bridleway) runs out of the village via a farm complex (now houses) and runs for three-quarters of a mile as a good track over open down-like country, to join the B3130 near Belluton.
The route was originally put on the definitive map as two contiguous RUPPs, and the southernmost of these was reclassified as BOAT without objection. An order was made in 1989 by the then highway authority to reclassify the longer RUPP as a bridleway, and local trail riders objected. A public inquiry followed and the Inspector proposed to modify the order to record a BOAT (on a mix of user and documentary evidence). This modification attracted objections and there was a further public inquiry in 1997, with a different Inspector. This Inspector held that the motorcyclists’ user evidence was not valid, relying on the later discredited authority of Robinson v. Adair, and the order was confirmed as bridleway for this part.
Mr Tim Stevens challenged this decision in the Administrative Court, where the Judge upheld the Inspector’s view of the law (wrongly, as it transpired later). So, for a bit over 15 years, all seemed settled, but in the background one of the landowners at the north end, advised by Mrs Marlene Masters, had put in an application to delete the section of bridleway through the Manor Farm curtilage altogether, leaving a three-quarter-mile long dead end. This application sat on the shelf, undetermined, for some years until a s.130A notice served with regard to an alleged obstruction at Manor Farm in August 2011 caused BANES to revisit the deletion application.


Above: The obstructed and misaligned section of bridleway at Manor Farm. Clearly, horses do use this route.

The BANES rights of way officers quite rightly advised the councillors against making the deletion order, but they were overruled and an order was made. The BHS and others objected. Then followed a period of administrative confusion, with BANES deciding the order was technically defective, and making a replacement order, although the first order still had to go to the Secretary of State. Then there was to be a public inquiry at which BANES next decided to adopt a neutral position, with Magna Law representing the applicant, but this was cancelled last-minute to be replaced by the written representations procedure, although there was an accompanied site visit in May 2014 during a torrential rainstorm.


Above: The bridleway looking back northwards towards Manor Farm and Norton Malreward (on a sunny day).
Over eight months later the Inspector, Mr Mike Lowe, issued his decision letter in which, to summarise, he finds little good evidence to prove that a mistake was made when the bridleway/RUPP was originally added to the definitive map. The order is not confirmed, and the bridleway remains obstructed — although riders squeeze by — at Manor Farm. You can find the decision letter on the PINS website under Bath and North East Somerset, reference FPS/F0114/7/14, dated 15 January 2015.


Above: These patently unlawful misleading signs were in place for the site visit in May 2014. BANES officers promised to have them removed.
In January 2015 a further s.130A notice was served on the council to expedite the clearance of the obstructing wall and other features (whilst officers might be relied upon here, the same could not be said of members) and the statutory counter-notice said that the occupier would be required to remove a 3-metre section of hedge and wall, vegetation, and rope. Nothing was heard back from BANES, and a letter of enquiry in September 2015 drew the response that the obstructions were removed in March, and that the path remains open and unobstructed (officers are monitoring it, as you might expect). Job well done by BANES officers, and top marks for the tenacity of first the TRF, and latterly the BHS, over 26 years. Yes, TWENTY SIX YEARS.