After 28 years or wrangling and legal process, Mike and Sue Weston have moved one step nearer to securing the diversion of a footpath which runs right past the front door of their home. This will enable them to gain a degree of privacy to which all of us are entitled while walkers will have a perfectly acceptable diversion that enables them to continue to enjoy the countryside around Bodicote. The High Court today refused an application from The Ramblers for an Inspector’s ruling allowing the diversion to be quashed. The Ramblers sought leave to appeal which was denied by the High Court judge. The Ramblers are now making a direct appeal to the Court of Appeal for a hearing. The Ramblers are fortunate to have sufficient funds to pursue a case against two individuals so relentlessly and I sincerely hope they lose; in fact I am confident that they will, given the judge’s ruling in the High Court.
In 1994, the previous owners of Bodicote Mill first applied to the County Council for a diversion of the footpath. At this time, the County Council had a significant backlog of such applications and shortage of funding meant long delays. As the local member, I was unhappy with this delay and I remember prodding the council to deal with these applications. The Westons purchased the Mill in 1998 with the application for diversion still with the County Council.
In 2002, the County Council started to reduce the backlog with the result that the Weston’s application for diversion came to the Planning & Regulation Committee in 2006. Consultation elicited a request from Bodicote Parish Council for a modest revision to the proposed route and this was incorporated into a revised application. As a result of this, the Parish Council supported the application for diversion. I spoke in support as local member and the committee approved the diversion with only a couple of Oxford Labour members voting against. The diversion order was submitted to the Secretary of State. As a result of opposition from a handful of local people and The Ramblers, the Secretary of State appointed an Inspector to hold a public inquiry. This was held at Bodicote House on 27 to 29 September 2011. After three days of legal arguments, the Inspector considered the case and found in favour of the applicants. I reported on the Inquiry at my September 2011 Local Blog.
Sadly, Bodicote Parish Council ceased to support the Westons after a small number of local residents attended the May 2011 Annual Parish Meeting, objecting aggressively and vociferously to the potential footpath diversion. This was not on the agenda, the Westons had no notice and were not present but it seems that the Parish Council took fright at the noisiness of a dozen people (out of 1,700 electors and another 2,500 in the adjacent Bloxham parish) and changed their position. It is the only time in 24 years when I have found myself diametrically opposed to the views of Bodicote Parish Council.
The Ramblers subsequently applied to the High Court for the Inspector’s findings to be quashed on procedural grounds. The application was heard today and refused by the judge. I congratulate the Westons for their courage in standing up to The Ramblers who have so much funding that they can pursue this case through every possible legal channel. Truly a case of David versus Goliath.