On an evening last July I walked from Hambleden in the Bucks Chilterns on a circuit with two friends. From Luxters Farm we rambled through Cadmoor Wood and came out on the sunlit slope, with the Hambleden valley spread before us. Then we followed the path on its direct route down the hill to the Skirmett road near Colstrope Lane.
A few weeks later I was dismayed to learn from Bucks County Council that the new owner of the field at the bottom, Culden Faw Estate (an amalgam of the former Culham, Hambleden and Fawley estates), had applied to divert this footpath, Hambleden 46, from its route across the field to the field edge, breaking that direct, purposeful line and introducing two pointless, time-wasting dog legs.
My sketch map shows what was proposed, the direct NW-SE route between A and D was to be diverted via C. The estate said that it would create a path inside the hedge from B to E if the diversion was confirmed. The creation would enable people to walk in the field,, avoiding a narrow stretch of road.
I was anxious that Hambleden Parish Council should oppose the diversion and I went to its next meeting and spoke in the public session. I explained that the diversion must be considered on its own, without reference to the creation which was entirely separate. The diversion could only proceed if it met the tests in section 119 of the Highways Act 1980, and I spelt out why I considered that it did not.
A diversion must be not substantially less convenient to the public. This diversion was roughly one third as long again as the definitive route, and wandered around the field instead of taking people where they wanted to go. The views were inferior too.
The effect on public enjoyment of the path as a whole must also be considered and in this case the path as a whole runs between Luxters Farm and the Skirmett Road in an almost straight line. The diversion would destroy this direct route. It failed the tests.
I spoke to the landowner’s agent who explained that the proposal had come about because a local person had asked for the route inside the hedge to link the footpath at B with Colstrope Lane at E, and the landowner wanted something in exchange. He also said he intended to have livestock in the field through which footpath 46 runs, so that whether or not the path is diverted, it will be fenced (the new owner has a large number of polo ponies). He said that the field containing the proposed creation would not have any livestock and would not be fenced.
The Ramblers and Open Spaces Society objected, along with those dependable campaigners David Parry and Dave Ramm. Unfortunately the parish council, after giving it careful consideration, decided it wanted the sweetener (despite its irrelevance) and therefore did not object; the Chiltern Society likewise. There may well have been other objectors.
I was delighted this week when the county council wrote that it agreed with us that the diversion did not meet the tests and that ‘the offer of a creation does not make the diversion expedient’ (another of the tests). So it has decided not to proceed with a diversion order.
It would be nice if the estate would anyway create the route inside the hedge which locals have requested, or at least make a permissive path. It has already posted notices preventing people from claiming any route on the land unless they already have historic or sufficient user evidence.
Since the estate has no plans to use the field for anything other than grass, it would cause it no inconvenience to create the new route. Meanwhile, we shall have to hope that it does not decide to fence in footpath 46—but even if it does, that is a less permanent measure than diverting the path round the field.
It is good to have saved this valuable, purposeful, path.