AN ‘historic’ public footpath at Heyshott is to be diverted so that puppies from the nearby Canine Partners base can be trained without being distracted by other dog walkers.
After hearing about the difficulties faced by Canine Partners, the charity which trains dogs to help disabled people – West Sussex County Council rights of way committee agreed to authorise a path diversion order.
Members heard the path bisected a paddock at Heyshott used for dog training classes which could cause ‘considerable distraction’ especially if used by walkers with their own dogs while classes were taking place.
“As part of their training, the assistance dogs must be allowed to work off lead, and so the possibility of meeting walkers’ untrained dogs which may behave disruptively, or even with aggression, is a concern, especially given the value of these specially trained dogs,” said a committee report.
“Canine Partners would like to divert the path around the edge of the paddock, on a route which could be separated from the training area by fencing.”
However, an objection had been received from a local resident, who said the path was ‘historic,’ and that the diversion might set a precedent for more general and widespread diversions of farmland paths in the local area.
He also maintained the width of the proposed path would be restricted by a hedge, and would be too narrow, as well as being against the National Park’s policy of open access.
But the committee report, prepared by county council officers, said the points raised were not considered to be substantive, or relevant to the legal tests.
Clive Murray, director of finance and company secretary for the charity, told the committee that two years of training were required for dogs, costing more than £20,000 per dog. Dogs were distracted by dogs and walkers using the public right of way while ‘delicate’ training was being carried out. Some of the partners – the majority of whom were confined to wheelchairs, many with severely limited physical abilities – were also made to feel uncomfortable.
“Canine Partners is not seeking to keep the public off our property, and we are happy to have a public right of way on our land,” Mr Murray added.
Cllr Derek Whittington said: “This is not going to be at all inconvenient for public passing along the footpath,” he said.
The committee heard there had been no objections from the parish council or the Ramblers’ Association.