BLUE ANCHOR PUBLIC FOOTPATH

This is a 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

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

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

The safe Public Footpath is on the high ground above the beach and has been used since time immemorial.  All the alternatives are dangerous - the warning signs say so.

Until 2017 public access 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, the Public Footpath has now been blocked.

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

This view has been supported by 120 signed affidavits by long-term users via The Ramblers Association and also by a public walk-through in 2017.

Preamble

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.

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 theor 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.  From this it may be assumed that the Chalet Site owners are well aware of the historic Public Footpath.

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 path 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 for years.

The County sea path (DP) is irrational and impractical, so how can it have become the definitive path 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 across the front of the chalet site.  This means that the DP is lower and covered by the sea for significant periods twice a day.  Not surprisingly, 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 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 all current OS maps of the area.

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.

For the best scale and most accurate alignment we would also suggest that you look at the OS Explorer 25k, rather than the 50k OS Landranger series. The appropriate Explorer for this area is Explorer 9.

If a local land owner has blocked a legal right of way you should contact the Local Authority (Somerset Council) as they are responsible for rights of way in this area."

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.

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.

Enlarging the formal Definitive Map held by the County Council we can see that the line of the Definitive Path is indicative rather than precise. When enlarged, the County Footpath across the beach appears to be about the width of the adjacent main road - clearly an approximation of the position.

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 and 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. 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 information from 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):

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.

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. (I have since confirmed with the Ordnance Survey that the line on their maps to be the line provided by the County Council).

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) - early 2017

A diversion was hurriedly arranged by the County Council in early 2017, which involved signing and blocking off 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 and public money used to block off and re-sign a footpath.

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

At worst, closing or moving a public footpath 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.

The many alternative paths being 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 photographs 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.

An early photo demonstrating unrestricted access to the front of the chalet site in the late 1920's or early 1930's

Pictured in 1935, there is a footpath across the high land before the front Chalets were built.

This 1940's postcard shows no restrictions to entry or the public car park.  Indeed, there was active encouragement for the public to use the site for access to the beach and shop.

This 1961 postcard shows the front chalets before 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 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 only safe access to the west, County has seriously inconvenienced the significant tourist trade.

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 car parking area.

The chalet site was overgrown for a few years as this 1999 photo shows.  However the Public Footpath continued to be used without challenge or restriction and the Lifebelt remained in place.

prior to February 2017, there was no fencing and also the entrance to the footpath was unobstructed and the wear at the entrance is clear. The fingerpost referred to in the Inspectors Report, above, had already been turned at this stage however the Lifebelt and mounting are seen 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 (ask the Coastguard). Despite this, County closed the safe path and directed pedestrians down onto this dangerous beach.

in February 2017, County Council introduced their TCP - with appropriate danger warnings. This was an unannounced movement, or creation, of a Public Footpath which was clearly more dangerous and impassable to many users of the safe Public Footpath on the level ground in front of the chalets.

It remains to be answered why the Parish Council and residents were not advised of these secret arrangements, entered into without proper consultation of the public. It is a failure of County Officers who refer to an outdated large scale map without bothering to see what was actually present on the ground - or were deliberately naive in thinking the public would ever actually walk the route of the DP.

It is clear that others have meddled and obfuscated, deliberately or accidentally, so the real and original Public Footpath, so clear on the ground and reported by previous Inspectors, has now resulted in blockage.

Comments by our MP

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 - increased risk, having been forced down onto a slippery pebble beach, presumably claim against Landowners and the County

SUGGESTED 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

It is immaterial whether the DP was ever used - however it is abundantly clear that the Public Footpath has been used without permission for at least 20 years prior to 2017.

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.