Essex estate access - inquiry starts

A CONTROVERSIAL order which threatens the peace and tranquillity of an Essex country estate is the subject of a five-day public inquiry which has started.

A CONTROVERSIAL order which threatens the peace and tranquillity of an Essex country estate is the subject of a five-day public inquiry which has started.

Essex County Council's decision to upgrade to byway status footpaths running through Marks Hall Estate at Coggeshall provoked more than 100 letters of objection from people worried about the effects on wildlife.

If successful, the order would allow cars, motorbikes and other vehicles through the grounds of the popular tourist attraction.

The move to upgrade the footpaths is supported by the Auto Cycle Union, which promotes trail riding – a non-competitive form of motorcycling. The group will not be giving evidence but will be observing the inquiry.


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The council says this would just be a restoration of the public's rights of way through the wooded grounds.

Presenting the council's evidence at Earls Colne village hall yesterday, principal legal assistant Mary Morris said recently discovered historical evidence showed vehicular rights existed along Thrift Lane from at least 1738 and that Long Chase was a cartway from 1593.

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By 1929 however, neither route was recorded as a public right of way and when a special Second World War order securing the Earls Colne RAF base from the public expired, the routes were redesignated as footpaths.

Mrs Morris said the fundamental legal rule "once a highway, always a highway" should apply.

She said: "Carts have given way to motor vehicles, so, as a matter of law, dedication for carts or carriages includes dedication for motor vehicles."

As a result, the council now wants to modify the official records.

Over the coming week, experts from both sides will pour over priceless 400-year-old parchment documents, detailing historic rights of way.

They are so fragile that planning inspector Sue Arnott said she was "afraid to breathe on them".

The Thomas Phillips Price Trust, which owns the estate and charges £3.50 for each car-load of visitors, disputes the authority's historical interpretations, arguing that some of the council's evidence is "wishful thinking".

The inquiry continues and a decision is expected later this year.

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