A campaign to re-open a blockaded public footpath at Midhurst is hotting up.
Around 40 people ignored torrential downpours last Friday to support the South Downs Society’s challenge to West Sussex County Council’s decision to close the popular permissive path which linked Midhurst town centre with homes and countryside west of the town.
The path, across Cowdray Estate’s Whiphill Farm, was arbitrarily shut by the county in October last year as part of the £31m redevelopment of Midhurst Rother College.
The college’s secured grounds will extend across the route of the path which links Lamberts Lane with Half Moon Corner on the Petersfield road.
On Friday the group walked from Half Moon Corner across fields to the blockade before retracing their steps to walk down the narrow June Lane, with a police escort, and back through the town to the former access point in Lamberts Lane.
Peter West, was one of the protesters. He said: “I have been coming over here since I was eight years old, from the 1950s. I cannot remember when this path was not used. No one ever stopped us.”
Blair Van der Heyde, who lives in Lamberts Lane, joined the group with her dog.
“I live in Lamberts Lane and I used this path. It is a tragedy that we can’t use it now,” she said.
The South Downs Society is in the process of launching a legal challenge to the closure.
It says it has identified an alternative route around the perimeter of the new college grounds but neither the county, nor the United Learning Trust, the college’s sponsor, have been prepared to consider it.
The society believes it has sufficient evidence the path has been in use long enough for it to be a statutory right of way, protected by law.
Spokesman Graham Ault said: “We are putting in a claim to the county council saying it should be a statutory path.
“It is a legal test, not a matter of opinion, and we believe we have the evidence to prove it. We have evidence from people who have walked it for 50 years.”
If the county fails to decide on the issue within 12 months, the society can appeal to the Environment Secretary.
“And if the county turns it down, we have a right of appeal to the Secretary of State because we believe our evidence of use is very strong,” said South Downs Society director Jacquetta Fewster, who led the protest rally.
Lord Cowdray’s agent, Robert Windle, told BBC South last week he was ‘pretty confident’ the path could be re-routed and the estate would be able to work with the county council to find a ‘suitable solution’.