Britain’s longest running planning row ends after 60 YEARS…but claimants have died

One of Britain’s longest legal disputes – a row over a tiny rural footpath which has rumbled on so long that the original claimants died – has finally been resolved.

Nearly 60 years after a footpath was wrongly included on a local authority map and the family who were besieged with walkers traipsing past their front door objected to it being listed as a public right of way, the saga has finally been wrapped up in their favour.

After long-drawn out High Court battles and inquiries the “muddy track” will be removed form Ordnance Survey maps, 58 years later.

Brother and sister Archie Peppard and Ivy Peppard outside their house on Turn Hill near High Ham.

Siblings Archie and Ivy Peppard, who have both since died, began contesting the inclusion of a footpath outside their tiny cottage on a map in 1973.

The cottage was built in 1840 by Archie and Ivy’s great-grandfather, in High Ham, Somerset, where family have lived since the 18th Century.

But in 1959, Somerset County Council wrongly listed the path as a public right of way, and soon the siblings were dealing with ramblers traipsing past their front door on a daily basis.

Eventually their local MP, former barrister Mark Robinson, suggested they get legal representation – and recommended Marlene Masters, now 80, to fight their case.

Working on a pro bono basis since 1994, Mrs Masters has been in and out of the High Court on behalf of Ivy’s son Rodney, 56, and described the case as a “David and Goliath battle.”

Working on a pro bono basis since 1994, Mrs Masters has been in and out of the High Court on behalf of Ivy’s son Rodney, 56, and described the case as a “David and Goliath battle.”

She said: “They were just country folk weren’t educated, and the county council took disproportionate advantage.

“The whole case should have been about whether the objectors had evidence of a right of way.”

Both Archie and Ivy died in 2011 – the year before the row appeared to come to an end, but Rodney, 56, still lives in the cottage.

In 2012, Mrs Masters won a High Court judgement against the council, which led to a new public inquiry.

Rodney Peppard (left) with his mother Ivy Peppard and Uncle Archie Peppard pictured in 2009 during their campaign to keep ramblers off the footpath (seen in the background).

But when the findings were delivered two years later, ordering the council to delete the footpath from maps, two objections were lodged, one by a rambler and another by the South Somerset Bridleway Association.

It was hoped the dispute could be concluded once and for all after another public inquiry was held in July – and the findings supported Mrs Masters and the Peppards.

Mrs Masters paid an archivist to bring historic documents to the public inquiry, arguing that no right of way would be shown on the 1799 Inclosure Award as the Peppards’ house was not built for another 41 years.

“If the cottage was built in 1840 then how could it show up on a 1799 map?”

She added: “It is so basic that you couldn’t make it up.”

Archie had built a gate to keep walkers out of the smallholding but was taken to county court and told to remove it, his old friend said.

Mrs Masters spent “incalculable hours” helping to fight for the Peppards’ after taking their cause to hard, and received no cash for it.

Marlene Masters of Yarlington on the disputed path.

Planning inspector Alan Beckett ruled in favour of the footpath being removed from the official Somerset County Council maps.

He said the 18th Century documents did “not provide evidence of the reputation of the route as a public right of way.”

And he accepted evidence from the Peppard family that the track was overgrown with plants and had a duck pond in the middle of the route.

But Mrs Masters fears another challenge could be lodged by the South Somerset Bridleway Association, contesting that the track is a bridleway rather than a footpath.

She added: “There is nothing scenic about it, it is a muddy track with a high hedge on one side and woods on the other.

“I am sure anyone aware of this problem would agree that the Peppard family should now have peace and quiet on their own property.”

The lane to Turn Hill Farm in High Ham, Somerset.

A spokesman for Somerset County Council said: “The order to delete the public footpath from the Definitive Map and Statement has now been confirmed by the Secretary of State, and we will be publishing formal notice of this in the local press shortly.

“We will be updating our records in the coming days to show that the route is no longer recorded as a Right of Way.

“The Ordnance Survey will also be informed of the change in order that they can update their mapping.”


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2 Responses

  1. Somerset Stroller

    I walked this footpath over fifteen years ago. Although I read that Marlene Masters says it is not particularly scenic it was for me part of a longer walk which took all day. You put little pieces together to make something bigger. You do that by using an Ordnance Survey map to see where access is legally available. This information is taken in good faith knowing that changes may have been made since even the latest map was printed. The section of path in question struck me as one which was comparatively rarely used.

    That afternoon I got so far when I was confronted by a person who appeared to live in the farm which is mentioned in the article. He abruptly told me I was on his land and suggested I may be about to rob his property. Strong language ensued on both sides and, somewhat flustered, I was eager to move on. I hurriedly continued along the designated right of way – by now a farm track – to the nearest road. The person from the farm then followed me at speed in a vehicle. Alarmed by this I started to run and jumped a gate to get out of the way. Separated by a fence we had a conversation of sorts which enabled me to appreciate there was a long-running dispute over the legality of the path.

    I then reached the road where I was met by some local residents who asked if I had encountered any difficulty. When I explained what had happened they suggested I report the matter to Somerset County Council which I duly did. The residents intimated there had been several previous incidents of a similar kind.

    Although I generally support the issue of walkers’ access to the countryside I am open-minded enough to realise this should never be automatic and that the reasonable rights of landowners should be respected. In forty years of walking throughout the country I have never experienced a situation like I did that afternoon in mid-Somerset. I can’t speak of the degree to which the farm was “besieged” by walkers. Using the path I thought that maybe a handful of people would pass by each week. Given the locality, away from towns and not in a particularly touristy area, I would also imagine the path was largely used by responsible hobbyist walkers. I can’t say, of course, how I might have viewed the situation had the path passed my front door. I guess it’s possible that just the occasional passing middle-aged rambler would have made me feel besieged.

    I’m trying to see that there is something in this case that represented an extreme injustice. It was certainly an act of misfortune that meant I walked into Britain’s longest-running footpath dispute. Whatever the background I’d say that, over fifteen years later, I still remember it as a most unpleasant incident. 

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