Walk This Way

By Tony Delliston

Friends of Fox Hill are very pleased to announce that final approval has been confirmed for a new Public Right of Way within Fox Hill. The new Public Footpath starts as the existing Public Right of Way from Limmerhill Road to Highland Avenue at the point where it crosses the pylon lines. It then runs down the hill until it meets the footpath from Dorset Way, here it turns right and follows this footpath until it meets WBC land where you can continue unhindered to Dorset Way. We are planning to walk the new Public Footpath as part of the guided nature walk on the 8th June.

In 2018 when 19 Hectares of Fox Hill woodland was put up for sale, Friends of Fox Hill decided to research then apply for footpaths historically used by members of the public to become recognised as Public Rights of Way, thus protecting them for future generations. In working with the Public Rights of Way Officer, within Wokingham Borough Council, it was established that we would have to provide historical evidence that routes had been walked for at least 20 years.  He asked for evidence, and so we produced a carefully worded guidance on how to complete the required forms and map. We had to be careful because we were not allowed to actually suggest routes at all. Forty-five people who had walked the woods, both past and present, kindly completed evidence forms and that is where the work really began.

A small sub-committee began matching the routes drawn to see how close they were and also the number of years walked to ensure the 20-year criteria could be met. Each route was then walked, photographed and co-ordinates taken. This resulted in several routes being identified and, following discussion with the Council, we were advised the best course was to submit all the routes in one application. Besides submitting the application, we also had to identify all the land owners where paths crossed their property. The Council was very helpful with this, and, of interest, there are pockets of land where there are no registered owners.  This did mean a delay in progressing the application whilst owners were identified. This all culminated on the 31st October 2019 when the full application was submitted to the Council.

We were aware that during the same period of making our application another application was being prepared to recognise Public Bridleways in the same area and the Council decided to work on the two applications together. The work was significant enough for the Council to employ a contractor to examine the applications and come up with recommendations to accept or decline routes with reasons. Unfortunately, COVID-19 unsurprisingly delayed the application further but in October 2022 the Council informed us that all but one route had been declined and reasons were given for each. The decision report provided contained 35 pages, 13,000 words, and 16 appendices. Having examined these, Friends of Fox Hill, following discussion with the Ramblers Association, decided to appeal some of the decisions via the Inspectorate. Unfortunately, there was a speedy response the following month informing us that we could not appeal due to one of the routes being accepted.

There then followed a lengthy public consultation period required by law, but with no objections we were finally informed last month that the one route has been fully confirmed and is now a Public Right of Way. It was also declared that the eight footpaths that were on Council land are actually covered by Right to Roam legislation and therefore did not need to be recognised as a Public Right of Way. These are the main reasons for refusal: –

  1. Routes drawn on evidence maps were not close enough to accept one route.
  2. Footpaths not connecting to a Public Highway as per Kotegaonkar legislation.
  3. Insufficient evidence numbers.

So, what next? We are planning on re-applying for some of the routes previously denied ensuring we answer the reasons previously given. 

Lessons have been learnt from the application: –

  1. Make a separate application for each footpath.
  2. Ensure each end of a route either joins an existing Public Right of Way, road, or Council land. (It is of note that some of the entrances from Woosehill such as Kent Close and Dorset Way are not Public Rights of Way. Indeed, the one in Kent Close is registered to a division of Bryant Homes who went into liquidation in 2002).
  3. Try to use a more informative evidence map including points of interest to assist drawing accurate walking routes.
  4. The 20-year rule for continuous use of a footpath does not have to be by one person, i.e. one person could be years 1-12, another years 11-20, or even a combination of more than two people.
  5. Establish the actual legal number of people required to give evidence to historical use. We have taken advice from the Ramblers Association who advised us that only one person is required.  However, the Council has taken a stance of a minimum of seven. This may have to be finally established on appeal if a route is declined solely for this reason.

Friends of Fox Hill will shortly be asking residents to assist on providing the necessary evidence of using certain routes over the last 20 years. Unfortunately, the clock will have to start again as we cannot re-use evidence provided in 2019 that 45 residents kindly provided. We know the Council has received a large number of Public Bridleway applications and has limited resources, especially as the very knowledgeable officer who provided original assistance has now moved on. However, we can use the consultant report findings to ensure we answer the issues raised on specific routes and re-apply.

Below is the Council decision map and I have highlighted the WBC land where there is a Right to Roam.