Ditton Meadows Riverside Footpath Blocked


Thursday, July 16th, 2015. 4:22am

New fence and gate on Ditton Meadows, diverting commonly used path from its riverside route.

New fence and gate on Ditton Meadows, diverting commonly used path from its riverside route.

Public access to part of Ditton Meadows near Fen Ditton appears to be at risk. Landowners Gonville & Caius college have recently installed new gates and have re-routed one of the most popular footpaths away from the riverside into the adjacent field.

In my view Gonville & Caius’ actions have amounted to the obstruction of path which has been in long use and ought now be considered a public right of way.

The pedestrian gate at the Fen Ditton end of Ditton Meadows has recently been reconfigured to provide access to a different field than it used to. The footpath access gate no longer provides access to the riverside field.

I suspect the college may have acted in an effort to prevent the currently well used path being registered as a right of way in advance of the cut-off date of 1st January 2026 set in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 after which all unregistered historic rights of way will be “extinguished”. I would like to see the established, riverside, route recorded.

Official maps, including Ordinance Survey maps, of the footpath in the area do show the path to be away from the river, behind the hedge, however in my almost fifteen years of visiting the area that route has been almost entirely unused with almost all those travelling through the area using the established path in the riverside field. Maps do not reflect the actual location of the path. For much of the year the route of the path as on maps is impassable due to flooding or mud.

Actions

  • As Gonville and Caius college is a public body subject to the Freedom of Information Act I can ask them to release information on their decision to make changes in the area. I have done so via mySociety’s Freedom of Information service WhatDoTheyKnow.com and the request, and any responses, can be viewed online
  • I have written to my County Councillor and the County Councillor for the area. I will update this article below with any replies
  • I have submitted a Countryside Access- Rights of Way problem report form to Cambridgeshire County Council and will note any response
  • My Views

    I would like to see greater access to the rural areas around Cambridge for both pedestrians and cyclists. I think this latest apparent restriction in access is a move in the wrong direction.

    I like walking and cycling by the river in this location and am very concerned that the established path may be lost.

    Map of footpath on Ditton Meadows

    Map of footpath on Ditton Meadows ( Source: Natural England)

    47 comments/updates on “Ditton Meadows Riverside Footpath Blocked

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      On the other side of the field there is another new gate, which if closed may obstruct the path:

      Perhaps the installation of the post to hold the gate open wasn’t a campaigning success?

    2. Denbie

      I am also concerned about the re routing of the path particularly in respect of its viability . The ground is uneven and far less accessible for anyone with mobility restrictions. The route itself is far less clear and could deter people. I also worry if it will be impassable in heavy rain conditions.

    3. Richard Taylor Article author

      Cllr Onasanya has written to ask me if there’s anything she can help me with and has said she can help bring this to officers’ attention. She has sought my permission to pass on my message. I have replied:

      Cllr Onasanya,

      I would like you to pass my concerns and suggestions on to officers.

      If you agree the established path(s) should be formally recorded and re-opened I’d like to see you do all that you can to ensure that happens.

      A further thought is historical aerial views available online show where the established popular paths have been in the area.

      Regards,

      Richard Taylor
      Cambridge
      http://www.rtaylor.co.uk

    4. Geoff

      Richard many thanks for raising this issue. I have been meaning to do it. The route along the river is well established, I have been in Cambridge nearly 50 years and have always used the riverside route. Interestingly the quite old Fen Rivers sign at Fen Ditton also points in that direction not where the ‘official’ path goes.

      I think there is a claim under:-
      “The lack of clarity in common law as to what constitutes a ‘sufficient period’ of public use led Parliament to enact a law about presumed dedication. The law is now set out in section 31 of the Highways Act 1980, which says that if a route is enjoyed by the public for 20 years or more, as of right and without interruption, the path is “to be deemed to have been dedicated as a highway”, unless there is sufficient evidence that there was no intention during that period to dedicate it. – See more at: http://www.ramblers.org.uk/advice/improve-the-path-network/creating-a-right-of-way.aspx#sthash.NJPX4wer.dpuf

      Once again many thanks

    5. Richard Taylor Article author

      I’ve suggested that while Cllr Manning is contacting the definitive map officer in respect of the riverside path he could also formally record the established access in-front of the boathouses opposite Midsummer Common. It’s important for Cambridge that this gets registered before the 2026 cut-off date too:

    6. Richard Taylor Article author

      I have received a response from the local County Councillor:

      This matter is in hand with the public rights of way team and I’m hopefully that an agreement will be achieved between the land owner (Gonville & Cauis College) and Fen Ditton parish council which will enable this well used path (which is not a public right of way) to be reopened soon.

      With regards

      John Williams

      While getting the path re-opened would of course be excellent; I would still like to see it recorded as a public right of way given its established use to prevent these problems reoccurring in the future. I have replied to Cllr Williams to make this point.

    7. Richard Taylor Article author

      Cllr Williams has replied to me again:

      The legal line of the footpath (Fen Ditton Public Footpath number 2) is along the southern side of the hedge and so the path that has been blocked is not recorded as a public right of way on the Definitive Map and Statement. The landowner deposited a Section 31 (6) notice with the highway authority in 1999 protecting its land from claims that a public right of way exists and it would appear that this was not challenged at the time. So as the law stands today to make a claim now evidence is needed that it was used for 20 years or more before 1999, which is impossible. I understand the landowner closed the path to prevent cattle damaging the water meadow but it has been willing to try to reach a compromise and as I say I’m sure this can be achieved.

      A declaration under subsection 6 of the Section 31 of the Highways Act 1980 doesn’t appear to impact the ability to register a right of way on the basis of an unchallenged use by the public, as of right, for at least 20 years; subsection 9 looks quite clear:

      Nothing in this section operates to prevent the dedication of a way as a highway being presumed on proof of user for any less period than 20 years, or being presumed or proved in any circumstances in which it might have been presumed or proved immediately before the commencement of this Act.

      I hope the landowner isn’t the one advising the council on the law, however Hampshire and Wiltshire County Councils at least agree with his interpretation.

      In this case though the notice was not accompanied by any action on the ground – the gate, and gaps in the hedge providing access remained open and the path remained in use.

    8. Richard Taylor Article author

      Our councils should publish such declarations online.

      I can’t see any arrangements for publicising notices under subsection 31(6) and enabling people to object to them in Cambridgshire.

      While Cllr Williamson asserts showing the path was used for 20 years or more before 1999 will be impossible, if that was required, I think statements from individuals combined perhaps with old photos could provide such evidence. I note the period extends to before I was born.

    9. Richard Taylor Article author

      Is it legal or reasonable to submit a notice of admitting a dedication of a path under S31(6) of the Highways Act 1980 even if there’s no sign on the ground of that path?

    10. Brian Cowling (via email)

      Dear Richard,

      You tweeted me regarding footpath issues at Ditton Meadows.

      Have I got this right? The route that the public have been using (the used
      route) is not recorded in the Definitive Map & Statement (DM&S). The used
      route has now been blocked to prevent the public from using it. Access to
      the route shown in the DM&S (the definitive route) had been obstructed but
      is now available, via a gate(s).

      Judging by what you and others have said in your blog, you seem to
      understand the general legal situation and have covered most angles.

      If it were me then I would:

      1. Contact the County Council’s Definitive Map Officer to confirm: (a)
      the precise position of the definitive route, and, (b) whether or not the
      used route has ever been claimed as a public right of way, or recorded as
      one and been diverted. I would also ask, as nicely as possible, for a free
      copy of a plan of the area at a suitable scale to accompany an application
      for a Definitive Map Modification Order (DMMO). I would also ask for a copy
      of the statement – the statement contained in the DM&S.

      2. Make a DMMO application to add a public right of way to the DM&S,
      having gathered user and other evidence in support of the claim.

      http://www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/info/20012/arts_green_spaces_and_activities/199/definitive_map_and_statement

      Some points:

      1. Cambridgeshire County Council’s online map is not the DM&S; it is
      likely to be a working copy incorporating events which have changed the map
      since the DM&S was last published. (The Council as the highway
      authority/surveying authority have a legal duty to consolidate all changes
      and republish the DM&S periodically.)

      2. The section 31 declaration isn’t the be all and end all. In my opinion
      such declarations can be challenged – it might not have been advertised
      properly, or for whole period since 1999, or renewed correctly, etc.

      3. Is the precise definitive route available for use? Is it obstructed in
      any way?

      4. Are any gates or stiles authorised? That is to say, recorded in the
      Statement accompanying the Definitive Map, or by certificate? If not then a
      structure such as a gate or stile may be considered an obstruction? (Not all
      paths have a Statement.)

      5. Is the width of the definitive path recorded in the Statement or
      elsewhere (an Inclosure Award for example)?

      6. Has the landowner and/or others discouraged/prevented the public from
      using the definitive route in any way? Does an image on your blog show it
      blocked? Are there signs/waymark discs on the definitive route?

      7. Has the landowner and/or others encouraged the public to use the used
      route? Signs – is that council finger post pointing to the used route? Have
      Waymark Posts/Discs been erected? Promoted Walk – has the used route been
      shown on a Council leaflet or online?

      8. Have there ever been signs on site to inform the public that the used
      route is not a public right of way.

      9. All of the above may compromise any efforts to encourage the landowner
      to dedicate the used route as a public right of way which it is in their
      power to declare. But in my opinion that should not outweigh the fact that
      it might already be a public right of way and that it is just unrecorded.

      10. The landowner does have the power to create a permissive route but that
      can be disposed of just as easily at the whim of the current or future
      landowner.

      11. Consider joining the Open Spaces Society! Our headquarters can offer
      proper legal advice, which you may require at a later stage. I am just a
      layman in these matters.

      12. It is a hard fact for some people to swallow but a used route can be
      unrecorded public right of way. If it is then a new right is not being
      requested – an old right is being asserted.

      I hope my comments are of use. Feel free to use them in part or in full in
      any way you choose but bear in mind they are just my personal thoughts on
      the issue at hand. I commend you for your worthy efforts so far. I hope that
      you will stick with it for the benefit of the public. Feel free to come back
      to me if you think that I may be able to help further.

      Regards,

      Brian

      Brian Cowling

      OSS Local Correspondent, Bedford Borough

      website http://www.oss.org.uk
      The Open Spaces Society is a registered charity (no 1144840) and a company
      limited by guarantee, registered in England & Wales (no 7846516).

      http://ossbedford.blogspot.co.uk/

    11. Richard Taylor Article author

      My thoughts on Brian’s very helpful points:

      1. Contact the County Council’s Definitive Map Officer to confirm: (a)
      the precise position of the definitive route, and, (b) whether or not the
      used route has ever been claimed as a public right of way, or recorded as
      one and been diverted. I would also ask, as nicely as possible, for a free
      copy of a plan of the area at a suitable scale to accompany an application
      for a Definitive Map Modification Order (DMMO). I would also ask for a copy
      of the statement – the statement contained in the DM&S.

      Perhaps if councillors supported the application we could get officers to help here – surely they’re well placed to accurately record the well used route?

      2. Make a DMMO application to add a public right of way to the DM&S,
      having gathered user and other evidence in support of the claim.

      http://www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/info/20012/arts_green_spaces_and_activities/199/definitive_map_and_statement

      As for collecting evidence – how about trying to interview people on video – asking them about their knowledge of the path.

      Completed User Evidence Forms should accompany a DMMO Application. A blank form (pdf) can be found on the Council’s website. Data includes user contact details – a council officer may wish to interview the user at a later stage. A local newspaper may help highlight your case with an article or even just publishing a letter encouraging users (particularly the elderly) to come forward.

      I can see this is a good idea; but I think encouraging people to fill in formal forms might be difficult.

      Have I got this right? The route that the public have been using (the used route) is not recorded in the Definitive Map & Statement (DM&S). The used route has now been blocked to prevent the public from using it. Access to the route shown in the DM&S (the definitive route) had been obstructed but is now available, via a gate(s).

      I think that’s a reasonable summary; the only point I’d add is that the work re-directing the path appears to be currently in-progress – that’s work which looks to be aimed at obstructing the old path and trying to make the new route passable.

      1. Cambridgeshire County Council’s online map is not the DM&S; it is
      likely to be a working copy incorporating events which have changed the map
      since the DM&S was last published. (The Council as the highway
      authority/surveying authority have a legal duty to consolidate all changes
      and republish the DM&S periodically.)

      Does this mean a Freedom of Information request for the relevant excerpt of the Definitive Map and Statement would be in order?

      No need for a Freedom of Information request.

      CCC website: “The Definitive Map and Statement are public documents and can be viewed during office hours at Shire Hall, Cambridge. If you wish to visit these offices to view these records please email assetsandcommissioning@cambridgeshire.gov.uk or telephone 0345 045 5200.”

      Material which is accessible via inspection is can be obtained via FOI. Using FOI via WhatDoTheyKnow.com means the released material will become easily accessible to all.

      2. The section 31 declaration isn’t the be all and end all. In my opinion
      such declarations can be challenged – it might not have been advertised
      properly, or for whole period since 1999, or renewed correctly, etc.

      I’m not sure how to check that; but our council doesn’t appear to have any online system for making such notices available and I’ve not noticed any advertising in the time I’ve been in Cambridge.

      Available online here apparently: http://www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/info/20012/arts_green_spaces_and_activities/200/landowner_deposits

      Via that link two submissions, minus their attached plans, are available:

      http://www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/download/downloads/id/1793/section_31_6_114
      http://www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/download/downloads/id/1888/section_31_6_209_2005

      The first refers to a Countryside Stewardship agreement with the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and also claims notices stating that no new right of way is being created have been posted at the main entry points. There are no such notices present today, nor have I seen any at this location.

      3. Is the precise definitive route available for use? Is it obstructed in
      any way?

      There are two points where the route is regularly impassable due to mud or water In one location this is so bad that the landowner has installed a piece of infrastructure to bridge the mud before attempting to move the path. The new route is flooded much more often than the old one and on occasion is completely flooded; on other occasions it is completely blocked by ice.

      4. Are any gates or stiles authorised? That is to say, recorded in the
      Statement accompanying the Definitive Map, or by certificate? If not then a
      structure such as a gate or stile may be considered an obstruction? (Not all
      paths have a Statement.)

      5. Is the width of the definitive path recorded in the Statement or
      elsewhere (an Inclosure Award for example)?

      It sounds like we need to get hold of the statement as noted under “1.” above to check this.

      An email to CCC asking the question should suffice. Important that you read the statement (if there is one) in due course though – sometimes the statement can be in conflict with the map for example.

      6. Has the landowner and/or others discouraged/prevented the public from
      using the definitive route in any way? Does an image on your blog show it
      blocked? Are there signs/waymark discs on the definitive route?

      Prior to the recent changes the signage and gates encouraged use of the established path rather than the one on the online definitive map and current OS maps.

      This could be used as evidence of intention to dedicate despite the Highways Act 1980, Section 31(6) landowner deposit.

      Signage, gates have only very recently been installed on the new path and the works currently appear in progress. There is no signage of the new path when approaching the area from upstream as yet. The nearest signage upstream is on the small footbridge which is close to the river, suggesting a riverside route.

      7. Has the landowner and/or others encouraged the public to use the used
      route? Signs – is that council finger post pointing to the used route? Have
      Waymark Posts/Discs been erected? Promoted Walk – has the used route been
      shown on a Council leaflet or online?

      Yes. Prior to the recent changes all signage, and the pedestrian gates, encouraged the use of the well established well used route.

      It seems to me that this and other comments regarding the used route could be argued as evidence to support the case that the landowner has dedicated the used route as a public right of way.

      I don’t know of any official promotion of the established route; though as noted above it does appear to be shown on an old map from 1920.

      8. Have there ever been signs on site to inform the public that the used
      route is not a public right of way.

      No. Quite the opposite there the gates and public footpath sign-age suggest the opposite.

      CCC seems to have maintained the path at a cost to the public purse perhaps in the belief that it was/is a public right of way.

      The County Council’s name and phone number are on the newly installed footpath marker signs; suggesting they have some kind of role in relation to the new path.

      9. All of the above may compromise any efforts to encourage the landowner
      to dedicate the used route as a public right of way which it is in their
      power to declare. But in my opinion that should not outweigh the fact that
      it might already be a public right of way and that it is just unrecorded.

      10. The landowner does have the power to create a permissive route but that
      can be disposed of just as easily at the whim of the current or future
      landowner.

      I suspect the landowner may be seeking to go down this route so they, or a future owner, can revoke access.

      11. Consider joining the Open Spaces Society! Our headquarters can offer
      proper legal advice, which you may require at a later stage. I am just a
      layman in these matters.

      12. It is a hard fact for some people to swallow but a used route can be
      unrecorded public right of way. If it is then a new right is not being
      requested – an old right is being asserted.

      I think this was a very helpful series of comments – thanks Brian.

    12. Brian Cowling

      Richard,

      It would be easier to respond to your comments and easier for others reading them if my further comments were attached immediately following yours as itemised (hope I’ve explained that well enough to understand).

      To that end, are you able to email me your responses to my comments as listed above and then insert my further replies in the relevant numbered bullet points?

      Brian

    13. Richard Taylor Article author

      Brian suggested trying to find a map produced by a local council showing the established path.

      A map displayed on the High Street in Fen Ditton – on a board containing South Cambridgeshire District Council’s name and logo shows the established path:

      map from board in the High Street showing established path

      1. Richard Taylor Article author

        The memo suggests that people using the footpath during the university bumps causes the college a “real problem” and they want to be able to “exclude” people from the riverside field.

        The statement ” Some time ago, following various complaints about the state of the public footpath, it was agreed that the County Council would upgrade the surface of the route.” makes me wonder if the County Council have funded elements of the path diversion and the new infrastructure.

    14. Richard Taylor Article author

      The minutes of the July meeting of Fen Ditton Parish Council state:

      Roland Bull of Bidwells had agreed to attend the August meeting to discuss a draft proposal to possibly re-instate the access across Ditton Meadow which could be locked when necessary.”

      However the agenda for the August meeting doesn’t appear to contain a relevant item. It is possible Mr Bull will just use the “open forum”.

      The council appears a bit of a shambles, the agenda for the August meeting inexplicably describes the meeting as an extraordinary one and their standing orders ban filming without the council’s permission and don’t mention the “open forum” agenda item (they do refer to public representations on agenda items). Despite a published agenda the council’s meetings page states in bold on its first line: “There is no meeting in August.”.

      1. Richard Taylor Article author

        Roland Bull of Bidwells called me this morning to say he is not able to attend the August meeting of Fen Ditton Parish Council but hopes to arrange to attend the next one.

        Mr Bull also told me the changes were prompted following discussions with Cambridgeshire County Council in respect of their responsibilities to maintain the right of way; the council then noted the gate near the high street was not properly installed and that kicked off the changes.

        Mr Bull said it has become apparent that people valued the existing path so steps will be taken to re-open it; though closing it regularly. Mr Bull proactively denied any of the college’s actions, or plans, were intended to prevent the registration of rights of way.

    15. Richard Taylor Article author

      Cambridgeshire County Council have replied to my Freedom of Information request.

      https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/recent_changes_to_the_footpath_o

      Released correspondence show Bidwells, who manage the area on behalf of Gonville and Caius College, have said of the blocked footpath:

      It is probably one of the most used footpaths in the county

      A letter released says Cambridge Ramblers can date use of the established footpath back to 1965.

      The response shows the view of one council officer is that board-walks and several bridges would be required to make the college’s preferred new route for a footpath passable.

      The response also shows many people have written to the council about the footpath; I know the released material is not comprehensive as my own reports, including via FixMyStreet.com on Sunday 26 July 2015 and a separate report acknowledged as “Countryside Access- Rights of Way problem report form – Ref. 6047794″ dated the 16th of July 2015 have not been included in the material released in response to the FOI request dated the 3rd of August. It appears others have had responses to their reports from the council, I am awaiting a response to mine, I’ve only had an automated acknowledgement.

      The release also reveals:

      The installation of the timber-sided stone walkway with 1.2-metre, self-closing Marlow gates
      at each end cost £1,950 plus VAT. This cost includes the purchase of the gates.

      That’s the structure installed in a location which is regularly under water.

    16. Richard Taylor Article author

      The material released by Cambridgeshire County Council reveals Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge were extorting the council, which perhaps explains why the council co-operated over the redirection of the footpath and even spent public funds on infrastructure for the new, often flooded and impassable, route.

      The college appears to be threatening to make the council seek a compulsory purchase order in respect of the proposed new foot/cycle route and bridge rather than negotiating with the council for use of the land.

      The college’s agents Bidwells wrote:

      While writing, it is also worth noting that the County Council will be seeking the College’s cooperation in the construction of the proposed cycle and footbridg to link Fen Road with Ditton Meadows, to the east of the railway bridge. This will involve the loss of land, both for the bridge and for the additional length of cycle path that is proposed.

      The expectation is apparently that there will be approximately 3,000 – 5,000 users of the route per day. If the County Council is unwilling to fulfil its responsibilities in relation to the existing rights of way network then the college cannot be expected to have a great deal of faith in the future maintenance of an even more heavily used route (within the same land parcel). If that is the case, the College is much less likely to voluntarily provide the land for the scheme.

    17. Richard Taylor Article author

      The Cambridge News has an article: Gonville and Caius College to re-open access to riverside footpath on Ditton Meadows after row which reports new gates are to be installed to reinstate access to the path.

      While this is excellent news and a campaigning success I think the path should still be registered as a right of way to prevent the path being blocked in the future.

      I think councillors should look into why their officers were so quick to throw public money at helping the landowners divert the path to the detriment of users.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published.
    Please consider saying where you are from eg. "Cambridge".
    Required fields are marked *

    *

    Powered by WP Hashcash