As a property developer, Henry Pelly must surely know the law on public paths. Yet he bought Luccombe Mill at Bratton, near Westbury in Wiltshire, apparently unaware that local people had, for decades, been enjoying the Watercress Walk which runs across his land.
The path runs between grid references ST 921520 and 922518, both on the Imber Road south-east of Bratton village, on land owned by Henry Pelly and Wessex Water.
Mr Pelly bought the mill last August. When he put up private notices and barbed wire across the stiles, the local people put in an application to Wiltshire Council to add the path to the definitive map. They have 78 witness statements to prove that the path has been walked continuously without challenge for more than 30 years, so there is a powerful case that this is already a public highway. It is on Wiltshire Council’s register of definitive map applications here.
One of the witnesses, Katherine Beaumont, sent Mr Pelly a letter of welcome. He replied rather patronisingly that ‘There are many wonderful walks in this area clearly shown on the OS map and as a local I am sure you are aware of the alternative Wessex Water route to the spring—and not through our garden.’ It is tosh to claim the Watercress Way is through his garden, it runs through woodland some distance away, with hardly a view of the house.
The previous owner of the mill, Mary Seymour, deposited a statement in December 2015 under section 31(6) of the Highways Act 1980 declaring there were no public paths on her land. However it is hard to believe that Mr Pelly bought the mill without knowing that people had long used the path and that the chances are that it is already a public highway.
I was on Radio Wiltshire this morning for the Open Spaces Society explaining that, provided there is good evidence of use for more than 20 years, the path is a highway and people have a right to continue using it. I hope Wiltshire Council will swiftly determine the application so that this much-loved path is recorded, reopened and restored to the people.