EAST Devon District Council has reacted to the report of a Planning Inspector regarding an appeal against Devon County Council’s refusal to designate footpaths at Knowle, Sidmouth, as public rights of way. The Council says this is a mixed outcome in a complex process.

Upholding the appeal in respect of just two footpaths, the Inspector also dismissed several elements of the appeal by Knowle Residents’ Association relating to a number of other footpaths on the same campus.

The Inspector’s report is available in full on the national Planning Portal website *.

In actual fact, the effect of her decision is NOT to immediately create the routes as public rights of way. The Inspector’s view is merely that the routes could reasonably be alleged to exist (which is the ‘lower’ level test that she was required to consider).

Devon County Council is now obliged to make an Order seeking to confirm the two routes, one of which follows the line of the main driveway from Station Road to the office buildings and the other via the rear service entrance from Knowle Drive.

If it chooses to do so, EDDC as landowner has the right to object to this Order and so force a further appeal to consider the matter. At this second appeal, though, an Inspector would consider the case on the basis of a ‘higher’ test – that is to say whether or not the routes have been shown to subsist on the balance of probabilities.

Evidence

If and when this further appeal inquiry takes place, EDDC will be able to present its evidence in much greater detail than in the hearing recently completed. The Council (including the Chief Executive and Deputy Chief Executive) has yet not given ANY direct evidence. EDDC supplied Devon County Council with a completed Landowner Evidence Form, along with a summary of its case as requested by County.

EDDC was advised NOT to provide its full evidence at that stage as it was deemed unnecessary. So EDDC has only really provided the basis for its case, rather than the evidence it intends to rely on. Any comment by the Inspector about the adequacy or otherwise of EDDC’s evidence merely reflects the fact that EDDC has not yet fully presented its case.

For example, the Inspector said: “In the absence of further evidence from EDDC to confirm the positioning (and wording) of signs pre-May 2012, [there is] insufficient evidence that during the period 2 May 1992 to 2 May 2012 the landowner made clear to the public a lack of intention to dedicate the public rights of way”.

EDDC will reserve its position until the Order is actually made by Devon County Council, which is expected to be in February 2014.

A spokesman said: “If we consider that it is appropriate to object to the Order, we will provide the full evidence as set out in our initial response to DCC. In the meantime, and until the routes claimed are confirmed as public rights of way, the signs will remain in situ.

“The Council has always stressed its intention to retain a significant proportion of the parkland at Knowle for public use and welcomes people using the park. The retained parkland would be offered to Sidmouth Town Council”.

* http://www.planningportal.gov.uk/planning/countryside/schedule14/schedule14decisions