Democracy rules in Turville, Bucks. Last week the parish council rejected a plan to close an ancient lane, following a parish consultation which showed that a majority opposed the plan.
Turville Court was completely rebuilt in 1997, soon after the ‘Gummer rules’ were introduced allowing isolated stately homes to be built in the countryside. Before this, Turville Court was a pleasant, unassuming property. It was pulled down and replaced by a pretentious brick mansion with tall chimneys exaggerating its prominence on the Chiltern hilltop.
There is a network of footpaths and bridleways across the estate, and an ancient lane which runs alongside the house and then continues as a bridleway over the brow of the hill to Turville, while footpaths branch off across the fields and through the woods.
The previous owners of the £22 million estate wanted to close the lane, largely on grounds of security, replacing it with a bridleway along the field edge on the other side of the hedge bordering the lane. But such closure involves the stopping up of vehicular rights, which means an order to the magistrates’ court under section 116 of the Highways Act 1980–and the parish council has a power of veto. The Open Spaces Society, LARA (Land Access and Recreation Association) and others also opposed it.
Then some years later the new owners, Michael and Carol Clare (of the bed emporium, Dreams), asked the parish council to reconsider–and kept asking until the council agreed to consult parishioners.
This was done at the end of last year, and the Clares’ arguments for the change were published. These included: ‘Major benefit for the public in terms of: considerably improved safety for walkers, cyclists, horse-riders and dogs; improved amenity (better views of the countryside; quiet enjoyment and improved rights of way), greater security for the Clare family’. They referred to the junction of the lane with Dolesden Lane being a blind corner and that the access road was a dead end.
At the parish council meeting on 16 February the chairman reported that 35 responses had been received from residents of the parish, of which 37 per cent supported the proposal (some subject to conditions) and 63 per cent opposed it–despite lobbying from Turville Court.
Each of the five parish councillors commented on the case and gave his or her conclusion. We learnt that the responses from the supporters gave scant reasons while those opposing the plan gave much more detail. No one produced evidence of any accidents.
There was no indication of how greater security would be achieved: the property was already gated with CCTV cameras and there were anyway other rights of way close by.
Councillors shared respondents’ concerns about the proposed alternative route. The bridleway would get chewed up by horses, and why should Bucks County Council take on this maintenance burden? The British Horse Society recommended a five-metre width for the bridleway which would be a scar on the landscape. Why should the public give up a good, hard-surfaced route suitable for wheelchairs, elderly people and children? The views from the proposed new bridleway were inferior. The two local riding establishments opposed the change. The legal process was complex with an uncertain outcome.
Furthermore, what guarantees could there be that the Clares would not erect unsightly gates across the end of the drive? Any agreement between the Clares and the parish council would have to be in perpetuity, a future landowner might not abide by it, leaving the parish council to enforce it, at considerable cost.
At the end of the meeting the councillors voted by four to one to reject the plan. Good for them, and I trust that’s the end of it. The Clares bought the mansion knowing full well the lane was there. They should learn to live with it.