The right to wander

In the 1920s Flora Thompson, best known today for Lark Rise to Candleford, lived at Woolmer Gate, Griggs Green, just outside Liphook.

If you read her Peverel Papers, or dip into Margaret Lane’s selection of her writings in A Country Calendar, you will find she loved nothing more than roaming over what she nicknamed Peverel Down – the area everybody else knows as Weavers Down.

It was a wild place to which she could escape from her work at Liphook Post Office and wander wherever she pleased over the common with her small dog.

Today some of the area where she walked is already a championship golf course essential to Old Thorns Manor Hotel Golf & Country Estate which, I understand, has about 86 bedrooms.

In Flora’s time, it was just a farmhouse.

In the Midhurst and Petworth Observer (October 4) you published an article about a planning application for a second golf course for Old Thorns on Weavers Down.

If successful, this would make three golf courses (including Liphook’s) almost within ‘fore’ shouting distance of each other.

The proposed site for this new course is divided between the two West Sussex parishes of Milland and Rogate and is in their remotest extremities. It is designated as an area of open-access common land.

‘Open access’ is what Flora Thompson enjoyed on the commons.

The CRoW legislation of 2000 established the statutory right of the public to roam wherever they please on this site, as long as they are on foot.

A large number of individuals have already registered their objection in principle to this area of open access and open vistas (the views are stunning) being tamed into a golf course.

The CRoW legislation also has provision for ‘excepted’ land on which, even where it is a registered common, the right to roam can be curtailed. The seventh category in the list of examples of ‘excepted’ land includes aerodromes, race courses and golf courses.

The area is registered common land – in fact three separately registered commons within the proposed site.

Common land is in theory protected from ‘development’ by the Commons Act of 2006.

The commons also have a long tradition of commoners’ rights attached to certain dwellings, but one cannot imagine these rights being carried out in the middle of a golf course.

The site is adjacent to a larger area of lowland heath and is part of an SSSI.

Finally, the site is within the South Downs National Park, and because of its significance the application (SDNP/12/01373/FUL, as published at last in the 4 October issue of the Observer) has been called in for consideration by the SDNPA rather than Chichester District Council.

The park’s own remit is (1) to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area and (2) to promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the Park by the public.

It will be interesting to see if the SDNPA will be able to support these two aims when considering an application for a lucrative private golf course on open-access common land.

Val Porter