The South Downs Society has slammed West Sussex County Council for closing a well-used footpath from Midhurst town centre and halting discussions on an alternative route.
The permissive path across the Cowdray Estate’s Whip Hill farmland linked Lamberts Lane with Half Moon Corner at Petersfield Road. It was blocked off in October to make way for the development of the new Midhurst Rother College, whose grounds will extend across the route.
The South Downs Society, which was set up in 1923 to conserve the amenities of the South Downs for the public, says it has identified a route which would provide a safe, convenient and pleasant alternative to the blocked path, and allow the college development to go ahead virtually unchanged. But the county council has rejected the idea.
Society trustee Graham Ault, who lives in Midhurst, said the organisation was very critical of the county’s approach to the issue of this footpath.
“This was a well-loved path which had been used by locals and visitors alike for more than 50 years, and the county council’s decision to block it off without even consulting users shows an arrogant disregard for the public,” Mr Ault declared.
“Instead of using a pleasant rural path with superb views, people wishing to walk between Lamberts Lane and Half Moon Corner, which is also part of a long distance footpath from Liphook to Chichester, now have to use the narrow June Lane which carries fast-moving traffic and has no pavements for pedestrians.”
Mr Ault said he had to resort to using the Freedom of Information Act to get any straight answers from the county about the process leading to the closure of the path because officials failed to answer his ‘simple’ questions.
“After I made use of this legislation, the county admitted they had not assessed the risk to pedestrians of sharing the dangerous June Lane route with vehicles and had failed to consult user groups.
“The South Downs Society believes the closure has put the public, including children walking to the college, at significant risk, and we call on the county council to re-open immediately meaningful discussions towards the provision of a safe and convenient route.”
Although the closed path is not shown on the definitive map of rights of way, Mr Ault said the South Downs Society believed it had gained right-of-way status because it had been used by so many people for so many years.
“The society is appealing for anyone else who used the route on or before 1998 to contact them to help strengthen the evidence,” he urged.
“The society hopes proof of public highway status, together with public support for a safe and pleasant path, will finally stimulate the county council to come up with a solution.”