BLUE ANCHOR PUBLIC FOOTPATH

This is a potential response to a County Notice - ref RW/848 - requesting information about the use of the Public Footpath across the front of the chalet site in Blue Anchor

This submission relates to the Public Footpath between:

top of steps at west end of seafront at grid ref:  ST 02156 43479
and the join with coastal path at grid ref:  ST 01526 43596

The definition of a Public Footpath from the Oxford Learner Dictionary:

"a way or track along which people walk, especially in country areas.  In England and Wales public footpaths are marked on Ordnance Survey maps and are legal rights of way.  They are often very old and people have the right to use them even if they cross private land.  They allow people to discover the countryside, and organizations like the Rambler's Association try to make sure that they are kept open and are well looked after."

I leave the reader of the comments below to decide upon the validity of the claim that a Public Footpath has existed and still exists across the front of the chalet site.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Blue Anchor is a busy holiday resort that has enjoyed uninterrupted access to the level path to the west of Blue Anchor towards Dunster via the Public Footpath through the chalet site.

Until 2017 the Public Footpath was neither challenged nor required permission to use.  Introduction of a number of recent paths have confused the issue, but it is relevant that the public have not been involved in these decisions made by outside bodies.  Through ignorance of the facts, an apparent inability to see the walked path and absence of consultation over many years, County decided to block the historic Public Footpath.

 This safe Public Footpath is clearly shown in OS 1:10,560 series 1949-1968 

The Public Footpath lies on the high ground above the beach and has been used since time immemorial.  All seaward (beach) alternatives are known to be dangerous and impossible to navigate by the elderly, infirm, young families etc - as confirmed by the warning signs put up by the County.

In February 2017, County Council introduced a temporary footpath (TCP) - with appropriate danger warnings.  This was an unannounced movement, or creation, of a new footpath which was clearly more dangerous and proved impassable to many previous users of the safe Public Footpath on the level ground in front of the chalets.  This new path has not so far appeared on any maps so cannot be reproduced here for fear of inaccuracy.

Consultation procedures for the creation of yet another new beach path (TCP) have not been followed and the Parish Council, Residents and holidaymakers accordingly have been shut out of laid-down procedures when the usage of the historic Public Footpath could have been discovered and the potential dangers of the new TCP aired.

Having used the Public Footpath without challenge for 45 years myself, I firmly believe the Public Footpath remains valid in terms of both Statutory and Common Law and should be quickly reinstated.

This view is supported by 120 signed affidavits by long-term users via The Ramblers Association; by our M.P. and local Parish and County Council representatives.

Preamble

Throughout this document, please note that the CLAIMED FOOTPATH is referred to as the Public Footpath. The other four footpaths are abbreviated DP; SCT; CP; TCP (see below).

It is vital to distinguish between the (currently blocked) Public Footpath and the more recent Definitive Path (DP), Steam Coast Trail (SCT), Coastal Path (CP) and the new Temporary County Path (TCP) which are not relevant to the successful reinstatement of the Public Footpath.

The TCP is not shown here as its position is vague and isn't shown on any map.

Whilst one might have some sympathy with the Chalet Site owners, readers are reminded that the Public Footpath was in use long before the Chalet Site or any of the other routes existed.  It would in any case be expected that a prospective chalet owner will have checked first on the presence of footpaths in the area before purchase.

Please note that, in protecting their enclave, the chalet site owners placed a gate at the main vehicle entrance some years ago, whilst no attempt was made to block off the footpath at that time and the entrance remained wide open until 2017.  At the western end, the entrance was wide open until a gate was erected in 2017 to direct walkers down onto the beach.  From this it may be assumed that the recent Chalet Site owners are well aware of the existence of the historic Public Footpath and are now denying access to the Public Footpath.  Contacts with the previous Chalet Site owner confirm the view that there have never been any restrictions on accessing any part of the Chalet Site.

It should be borne in mind that the County may become involved in litigation if it proves they have given misleading information to the Chalet Site owners and this may colour their response.

The Definitive Path (DP)

It appears that County has drawn a line on their Definitive Map to represent the DP (see below) that is significantly below high tide level.  This is not related in any way to the safe Public Footpath on higher land that has been used for centuries.  The DP is not a safe alternative (the signs say so) to the Public Footpath that has been freely used without challenge for years.

The County sea path (DP) is irrational and impractical, so how can it have become the DP other than as a paper exercise?

 This is one of the official maps presented by the County Council 

The Definitive Path WL3/19 is drawn 15 metres further out than the walked Public Footpath on the higher land across the front of the chalet site.  This alignment means that the DP is covered by the sea for significant periods twice a day.  Unsurprisingly, the DP is not waymarked so it is not clear where the turn might take place, a basic requirement of a Public Footpath.

The formal Definitive Map held by the County Council is hand-drawn on a large-scale map dated 31/5/1954 with a relevant date of 09/59.  Unfortunately this is based on an ancient Ordnance Survey map (it appears to be based on the OS 6" 1888-1913 series) drawn long before the chalets (or even the gun emplacement) were built so there is no clear reference point.  The precise route is not indisputably clear beyond the fact that it clearly lines up with the pavement along the sea-front and this view is supported in writing by the Ordnance Survey mappers and accurately shown on current OS maps of the area.

Responding to the direct question, in an email to me (31/3/2017) Ordnance Survey state:  "The most likely source for this Right of Way (ROW) would have been the Somerset Definitive Map.  Comparing the current definitive map and the alignment of footpaths on our mapping they are in agreement." - which suggests there might be another, different, Definitive Map?

Can it really have been the intention of the hand-drawn line on an ancient drawing to place the DP 15 metres out to sea? More sensibly the intention would have been for it to align with the existing level public footpath on the coastline?  To the independent onlooker viewing the large-scale map it would be difficult to suggest otherwise.

Although it has become more recently a Parish Council responsibility to check footpaths in their area, there appears to be no evidence that this DP drawing from 1959 has ever been presented to the Parish Council to confirm its accuracy or otherwise.

There may well be other public footpaths in the country under water at various times - but none will have a patently well-walked and safe land path immediately alongside.  The hand-drawn position of the DP defies logic.

 However this map, from OS 1:10,560 series 1949-1968  was current at the time the Definitive Path was drawn.  It clearly shows the Public Footpath along the high ground leading into the Chalet Site - and demonstrates the existence of the Public Footpath into and through the Chalet Site.

Why this was not seen both on the ground and on paper at the time the DP was drawn is open to conjecture. The well-worn Public Footpath should rightly have been brought forward as the DP on grounds of usage and commonsense.

This 1950's postcard confirms the existence of the Public Footpath on the high land bahind the former wooden chalets (removed on Health and Safety grounds in the 1970's).  Some of the width at this point will have been due to chalet owners using cars to access their chalets and to enable the Coastguard access to the shoreline - the SCT may like to note this previous unchallenged use.

The Steam Coast Trail (SCT) - Natural England Chapter 11 Blue Anchor to Minehead

It is unfortunate that the proposed SCT comes close to the Public Footpath as it "follows the public right of way across Dunster Beach" although it does note the "level gradient of the footpath afforded by the low lying coastline".

Unfortunately negotiations with the Chalet owners failed and the SCT now ends just short of the Chalet Site land ownership.  Users coming from Dunster are now forced to slide down a steep pebble bank (or clamber up it on the return journey).

Other than the mention above, the existence of the Public Footpath through the chalet site was not acknowledged, despite the very obvious wear path on the ground and the OS map shown above.  Residents and the Parish Council don't appear to have been involved or they would have mentioned the Public Footpath which at that time was neither blocked nor permissive.

The Coastal Path (CP) - Section 9 - Blue Anchor to Dunster Beach

This was similarly agreed without any consultation with residents (or I believe, the Parish Council, as it is not mentioned) about the Public Footpath, despite the Public Footpath being clearly visible on the ground and being well used.

However there are a number of revealing comments by the Inspector (April 2014) who expressed some surprise that the walked path was not selected to be part of the Coastal Path in her report:

1. Travelling from Blue Anchor towards Dunster Beach, the Report reads "Follow the Public Footpath on the Beach Side of the Chalets.  To your right is another piece of World war 2 defence infrastructure.  Continue on the pebbles to follow the path running alongside the railway line".
Clearly the Public footpath on the high ground across the front of the chalets was in existence and public use at that time (2014).

2. The Inspectors Report at para 22 makes reference to the "footpath" sign pointing to the Public Footpath and that "there was a clear evidence of use of this area of land to reach the beach, without using the steps, both in terms of the worn track across the grass and the people I observed doing so".

3. Further, at para 24, the Report mentions the fact that the OS map suggests the existing footpath crosses the area of land west of the steps.
It is worth repeating: Ordnance Survey state:  "The most likely source for this Right of Way (ROW) would have been the Somerset Definitive Map.  Comparing the current definitive map and the alignment of footpaths on our mapping they are in agreement." - which suggests there might be another, different, Definitive Map?

4. The Inspector noted at Para 26 that (paraphrasing) "where there is a clearly walked route Natural England would normally adopt it" and "it is the walked line that is normally proposed". In the absence of resident or Parish Council involvement the views of the Chalet site owners were wrongfully allowed to hold sway.

The salient point here is that a private agreement seeks to rob the residents and holidaymakers of their Statutory and Common Law rights.

It is relevant that from this date in 2014, to the blocking up of the Public Footpath by the County Council in March 2017, there was no sign or any restriction to limit public enjoyment of the Public Footpath.

County will equally have seen the "clearly walked route" at that time and apparently acted contrary to the public interest by not involving the Parish Council or the public in their private agreement.

Temporary County Path (TCP) - March 2017

A diversion was hurriedly arranged by the County Council in early 2017, which involved vague signing and also blocked the Public Footpath.  It was queried why public money was being used to block an established (from clear evidence on the ground and a complaint from me) Public Footpath?  County assured Natural England that the Public Footpath should be blocked.  Public money has been used to block off a historic footpath and re-direct the public down to a new and less safe footpath on the pebble beach.

In that the TCP was never advertised, at best it represents a movement of the Definitive Path without notice and without the statutory opportunity for the public or the Parish Council to comment.

At worst, closing or moving a public footpath (DP) without warning or proper procedures is a flagrant disregard of equality rights.  The TCP is more than a reroute; the TCP is acknowledged to be dangerous and cannot be used by the elderly, disabled, prams, cycles etc.  Many former users of the Public Footpath, together with their families, have had their Common Law rights summarily removed.

HISTORIC "FREEDOM TO ROAM" OVER CHALET SITE

As the many alternative paths are unsuitable for one reason or another, I therefore focus on the unchallenged use of the Public Footpath leading from the top of the steps at the west end of Blue Anchor promenade past the seaward side of the chalets on the seaward (northern) side of the chalet site.

From this 1999 postcard, note the historic gap in the fencing on the main road and the signpost (as mentioned in the Inspectors Report above) at the start of the Public Footpath which has hitherto given unrestricted access to this footpath.

Footpaths are historic and are protected by "Once a footpath always a footpath".  Before March 2017 what person would voluntarily walk 15 metres out to sea and then across a steeply shelved pebble beach when there was a direct and level path on land?  Of course they didn't; they kept to the well-worn public footpath that has been used for time immemorial.

As mentioned above, the Inspector in 2014 stated "there was a clear evidence of use of this area of land . . . . . both in terms of the worn track across the grass and the people I observed doing so".

There are many photographs showing the footpath and the public using it.  Early Post Cards clearly demonstrate the way the site was used by the public - for recreation, access to the car parking area and for the shop. The route of the Public Footpath is clearly shown on more recent Google Earth and other photographs.  The previous owner of the site never placed any restrictions on public use of the whole of the chalet site.

An early photo demonstrating unrestricted access to the front of the chalet site in the late 1920's or early 1930's - pedestrian and car parking.

This photo demonstrates unrestricted access to the front of the chalet site in 1932 - pedestrian and car parking.

Pictured in 1935, clear evidence of the public footpath across the high land before the front chalets were built.

This 1940's postcard shows no restrictions either to entry or to the busy public car park.  Evidence of active encouragement for the public to use the site for access to the beach and shop.

This 1939 postcard also shows no restrictions either to entry or to the busy public car park.  Evidence of active encouragement for the public to use the site for access to the beach and shop.

 It is worth repeating this map, from OS 1:10,560 series 1949-1968  - which shows the Public Footpath along the high ground leading into the Chalet Site - and demonstrates the existence of the Public Footpath through the Chalet Site at the time the DP was being drawn.

This 1961 postcard shows the front chalets before chalet gardens were extended to narrow the Public Footpath. The footpath isn't that clear, however the worn path in front of the chalets can just about be made out.

The wooden chalets beyond were removed on Health and Safety grounds in the 1970's.

This late 1960's postcard gives an idea of the size of the close-by tourism trade; there is another large caravan site immediately to the east of Blue Anchor.  The long sea-front has always enjoyed free parking both sides for the whole length.  By wrongly blocking the Public Footpath (the only safe access to the west), County has seriously inconvenienced the significant tourist trade and the income it produces.

Bottom centre of this picture shows two open and ungated accesses to the chalet site, including the (smaller) post-war carpark.

For many years the chalet site had a shop that was open to everybody without any restrictions.  Not shown in this picture are the toilets used by the public and the public car parking area.

This part of the chalet site was overgrown for several years as this 1999 photo shows.  However the Public Footpath continued to be used without challenge or restriction and the Lifebelt remained in place until early 2017.

prior to February 2017, there was no fencing and the entrance to the Public Footpath was unobstructed. The wear at the entrance to the Public Footpath is clear.  The fingerpost referred to in the Inspectors Report, above, had already been turned at this stage however the Lifebelt and mounting are still on top of the old gun emplacement.

The Bristol Channel has the second highest rise and fall in the world and many have been caught in the shifting mud in Blue Anchor Bay and needed rescue (ask the Coastguard). Despite this, County closed the safe path and directed pedestrians down onto this dangerous beach.

Reported comment by the local MP

This appeared in the Free Press of 6th October 2017, relating to the SCT, a multi-million pound scheme to link up coastal communities.  His comments are also relevant to the claimed Public Footpath through the site.

"I was somewhat disheartened to learn that the latest attempt to break the deadlock over the coatal footpath at Blue Anchor has ended without agreement."

"As a result what should be - and was designed to be - an easily negotiable pedestrian route from Dunster Beach is incomplete, with users obliged to scramble down a shingle bank and along the beach for the last few dozen yards - not really an option if you are old, frail or pushing a buggy."

"Rights of way and access issues are invariably complicated but in this case we appear to be faced with a particularly intractable problem.  The chalet owners are claiming there is no general access across the land fronting their properties - despite the fact that it has been continuously walked for years and that they only erected their barriers once the formal route from Dunster Beach was all but completed and being used."

Submission by:

Jim Butterworth, Woodcombe, Grove Road, Blue Anchor, Minehead, TA24 6JX   email: km07jcv@gmail.com

this submission on behalf of all those who felt strongly enough to attend the site meeting in November 2017 as reported in the local paper dated 24th November 2017.

OUTSTANDING ISSUES

Officer report to County 2018 - misleading + no Cllrs on the Regulation Committee from this area (other than our representatives)

No evidence of County asking about updates or confirmation of definitive paths since 1959

Lack of commonsense providing the new TCP within a few feet of the Public Footpath, but over uneven and slippery pebbles.  My wife already fallen - had to be helped up.

The insurance position (bearing in mind that the Chalet Owners site goes all the way to the LOW tide mark) - of an increased risk to walkers, having been forced down onto a slippery pebble beach, could claim against Landowners and the County

When the road was realigned to make it safer for people leaving the station - the fence was renewed BUT the gap at the start of the footpath remained. So County accepted AT THAT TIME the presence of the valid public footpath.

Is it right for County to be judge and jury on their own errors and omissions?

Annual access for raft race - some very big and must have used the Chalet Site for access

Historical reason for footpaths - to get from A to B. Who would use any path other than the Public Footpath. Cannot be extinguished.

Walking groups - especially disabled - barred from enjoying coast towards Dunster. Countless holidays spoiled by selfish actions of one or two Chalet owners.

note position of easy steps onto the beach for the less able - and the Lifebelt - both in place and unchallenged for many years. Would either have been permitted if public access and the footpath didn't exist?

 Unsolicited letter received 25/9/19 

POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS

The Public Footpath is reinstated

County construct a permanent path where the TCP is at the moment

Steam Trail build their cycle path through the centre of the Chalet Site