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Planning Inquiry Victory

Icknield Way to be a Bridleway

Following a second Public Inquiry in November 2013, the Planning Inspector has determined that the Icknield Way from Westmill Lane to the B655 Hitchin-Barton road should be a Bridleway.

Following submissions from The Icknield Way Action Group, the Green Lane Protection Group and over 91 local objectors the Inspector changed his mind and altered his original decision, an unusual occurrence.  The prospect of the blind summit at Punches Cross and the semi-blind corner on the B655 being exited by massed 4x4s and motorbikes is receding, but our opponents the Trail Riders Fellowship still have 3 months to appeal. But in that case they would have to go to the High Court and argue against lawyers from the Department of the Environment, Fisheries and Rural Affairs.

The Inspector's 22 page judgement makes mention of the part played by local people. Although, as expected, he says a number of submissions were made concerning archaeological, safety and environmental concerns of which he could not take note, he makes other comments concerning the views of local people.

"Although there is recent evidence of use by vehicles," he states, "the view of the Parish Council is consistent with recollections of the local residents". He goes on to say "I conclude on the balance of probabilities that the Order Route is a Bridleway …and that the proposed modification [to be a Byway Open to All Traffic] should not be pursued."  At another point in his judgement he goes on to say "the view of local residents was that the route has a reputation as being a Bridleway and a number of individuals outlined their use on foot and on horseback not encountering vehicular use".

On behalf of IWAG, Harry Spencer-Smith would like to say a big thank you to all those residents who made these points in their written objections or in person at the November 2013 Public Inquiry.

Our County Councillor David Barnard and local District Councillor Faye Barnard added their congratulations. They said: " Well done to all… it is brilliant to confirm that local opinion, and a dogged response, can still bring about a result."

What were the deciding factors of the judgement in our favour? IWAG's lawyer James Pavey of Thomas Eggar asked the crucial question at the Inquiry. What was the compelling evidence that the Icknield Way had been a vehicular carriageway before the Enclosure Commissioners set it out as a Bridleway? Our opponents could not provide such compelling evidence. On the contrary, academic and archaeological input from the Green Lane Protection Group and North Herts Archaeological Society stated that the ancient route was a skein of tracks over the North Hertfordshire landscape. It was unsafe to claim one particular track had vehicular rights.

There was another factor in our favour. The Inspector commented that the Pirton Commissioners had determined in 1818 that the Icknield Way was to be set out as Bridleway of 24 feet. However under a 1993 case relating to another dispute a judge had decided that Enclosure Commissioners only had the power to make a highway of 30 feet. So, bizarrely, the Pirton Commissioners decision had been made technically invalid 175 years after the event. However, he reasoned, the Commissioners' clear impression at the time of the decision was that the route was a Bridleway and he should give some weight to this in his decision, which he duly did.

These observations give just a hint of some of the baffling complexities IWAG, GLPG, local historical researchers and their legal team have been wrestling with over the last 9 months. Our grateful thanks go to them and to the small group of local people who have funded the not inconsiderable costs of the legal challenge. We cannot know for sure until the 3 month period for our opponents to appeal has past, but our hope is that the matter is closed and the Icknield Way is preserved as it always has been as a Bridleway and Footpath for local residents, their children and grandchildren.

Jan 16th 2014

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