Long term readers will know about the opening of the off-road stretch between Godmersham and Chilham in May 2013, the launch of Catha’s Seat, and the subsequent concern that the cycle / walking route (it’s part of the Stour Valley Walk and Pilgrim’s Way) was going to be opened up to all traffic – and in particular noisy trail bikers.
The Trail Riders Fellowship maintain that this stretch of path was once the Old Wye Road, and that it would therefore historically have been open to all traffic (ie. horses and carts). They therefore took issue with Kent County Council’s decision to make it a cycle path where motor vehicles (ie. noisy motor bikes and vans driven by fly tippers) would be forbidden.
So they took the matter to the Planning Inspectorate who upheld the appeal, saying that, on the balance of probabilities (in light of weak evidence that it was once in history a carriageway, but apparently no evidence that it wasn’t) Kent County Council should indeed have registered the route as a byway open to all traffic on new maps of footpaths and byways. It appeared that good sense had not prevailed. The planning inspector wrote:
Overall the evidence in support of the appeal route being a carriageway, when taken as a whole, is not substantial. Nevertheless, in the absence of any evidence which indicates that carriageway rights cannot exist, it is just sufficient to conclude, on the balance of probabilities, that the route is such a way.
But this is where it gets complicated because that is not the end of the process.
It turns out that Kent County Council now have to apply to put the route on a map as a byway (as a result of the above decision). And we can once again submit our objections as indicated by KCC planning officer Chris Wade: AE429atChilhamLetter The most significant objections, as before, will be those which give evidence that the road was never intended to be used by motor vehicles, or ceased to have that status. So we the public have another chance to silence the motors.
So that’s good news… Seldom have I welcomed bureaucracy but it is of course quite fitting that protection of our footpaths, ancient rights, and peace and quiet should involve considerable deliberation, particularly when it comes to the possible wrecking of thousands of afternoon walks and cycle rides.
Unfortunately I don’t have any old maps… but others do. I’ve had sight of one representation of which this is an extract:
Much of the Inspector’s argument revolves around whether or not the ancient Wye to Canterbury road was indeed a highway. We would submit that whatever its status prior to the coming of the railway in the 1840s, the section of the Wye to Canterbury road from Godmersham to Mystole has not been a highway since the railway was built… an original annotated copy of the Railway Plan for the parish of Godmersham shows unequivocally that the railway obliterated almost all of the Wye to Canterbury road from The Street, Godmersham to East Stour Farm…. We therefore maintain that for at least the past 170 years it has not been possible to consider AE18 to be part of a highway linking Wye and Canterbury.
So the historical evidence that it should be a footpath rather than a byway open to vehicles appears conclusive.. Furthermore, whatever the technicalities of historical footpaths and byways, the route has recently been transformed into something quite new: a cycle path with a seat for quiet rest and contemplation, with a memorial plaque to someone who put great effort into its creation.
It is of course preposterous that anyone should think of using evidence that this route was once a ‘road’ for horses and carts to justify bombing along it on a trail bike, terrifying dogs, horses and children, completely negating the whole principle of an off-road cycle route – an endeavour which attracted widespread public support. Surely planners will therefore see sense and close it to motorised vehicles?
If not, I will hold them responsible for every instance of noise pollution and fly tipping that occurs on that country path for ever more. And, judging by current levels of those nuisances, that will be a considerable cross to bear.
Chris Wade says in this letter that, if he receives sufficient representation, the matter will once again be submitted to the planning inspectorate. Please do send something to Chris.Wade (at) Kent.gov.uk. And hurry! The deadline for receipt of objections is February 2nd.