Westerfield: Homeowner locks out public in path protest

A HOMEOWNER is taking a firm stand against ramblers who are determined to trudge through her front garden.

Debbie Wiseman, of Lower Road, Westerfield, claims she was never consulted on the public footpath being added to the definitive map of rights of way.

The mother-of-two has now blocked access by closing a gate on the path and posting a sign declaring her garden out of bounds.

But ramblers groups argue the route has been for public use for more than 200 years, and the council has given Mrs Wiseman until tomorrow to unlock the gate or face possible legal action.

The decision to include the path on the map was made following an inquiry in January but Mrs Wiseman said she first knew of it was in July when she was asked by police to not walk her dog without a lead.

She now blames the public use of the path for several acts of vandalism and theft from her property.

“It’s disgraceful,” Mrs Wiseman said. “I was never told there was a public inquiry taking place.”

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The council told Mrs Wiseman it sent a letter in 2010 to notify the landowner of an application to add the path to the definitive map of right of way under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. But Mrs Wiseman, who had bought the property but had yet to permanently move in, said the previous owner had emigrated to Australia and that there was no record of a letter ever being sent.

She also claims her neighbour, who has lived in an adjoining annex for almost a decade, was also not informed and the path had been unofficially sign-posted as a right of way for the last 20 years.

When a definitive map was drawn up for the whole of Suffolk there were 756 anomalies, or cases where routes were believed to be incorrect.

Mrs Wiseman says the footpath across her front garden was not on the original deeds to the property, which was deemed free of encumbrances.

But ramblers claim the path has been walked since the early 1800s and provided evidence at the inquiry to prove it an official right of way, in spite of initial objection from Network Rail because it crossed the Ipswich to Woodbridge line.

The ramblers’ evidence that the path was public before the railway was built was accepted by the planning inspector.

Suffolk County Council has now given Mrs Wiseman until tomorrow to reopen the gate.

A spokeswoman said: “Mrs Wiseman is in dispute with the county council regarding the process which put this public footpath on the definitive map.

“The county council has written to Mrs Wiseman asking that she provide us with any evidence she has to support her claim that the right of way does not exist, once received we will consider the evidence.

“In the meantime the county council is satisfied that the path exists in law and has asked Mrs Wiseman to remove the obstructions by November 7. Failure to comply with this will result in the matter being placed in the hands of its legal department.”

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