Kent

Inquiry into Adisham woodland right to roam row begins

A landowner at the centre of a row over villagers' rights to roam on woodland has claimed existing footpaths provide "ample service" to the community.

Villagers in Adisham, Kent, claim they have enjoyed the woodland for more than 20 years, therefore giving them a legal right to ramble freely.

But estate owner Timothy Steel believes granting public access could harm it as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

The two sides came face to face at the start of a three-day public inquiry.

Barbed wire

The woodland area is home to several orchid varieties, plus butterflies, insects and birds, including the green woodpecker.

Locals have complained that obstacles, including padlocked gates and barbed wire fences, are blocking their way.

Mr Steel is a former vice chairman of stockbroker Cazenove and has owned most of the land since 2001.

A statement submitted to the inquiry on behalf of Mr Steel said previous landowners had given no intention to dedicate the routes as public rights of way.

It stated: "Existing footpaths already provide ample service to the local community and tender the claimed routes unnecessary and redundant."

Canterbury Tales

Maria McLauchlan, the public rights of way definition officer at Kent County Council, said Natural England raised no objection to granting public access rights to the three disputed footpaths and a bridleway.

The Highways Act 1980 states that uninterrupted use of a route over a 20-year period establishes a presumption it has been dedicated to the public.

Ms McLauchlan said the county council was satisfied "on a balance of probabilities" that pedestrian rights have existed over the routes for the required period.

The rural area is said to have been on the route taken by pilgrims to Canterbury, which became the subject of 14th Century author Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales.

The public inquiry at Adisham Church of England Primary School is expected to last three days.

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