Locking passage is now against the law

RESIDENTS of an ancient St Ives street could end up in court if they try to stop drunken yobs making their lives a misery. A rapid decision by a Government planning inspector confirmed last week – less than 10 days after a formal public inquiry – that Cow

RESIDENTS of an ancient St Ives street could end up in court if they try to stop drunken yobs making their lives a misery.

A rapid decision by a Government planning inspector confirmed last week - less than 10 days after a formal public inquiry - that Cow & Hare Passage, in the town centre, was a public right of way.

It means residents, who had resorted to locking a gate to prevent drunken yobs' anti-social behaviour, will be breaking the law if they continue to lock up at night.

Following the day-long inquiry on March 28, inspector Helen Slade has confirmed Cambridgeshire County Council (CCC) was right to include the passage on the map of public rights of way at the request of St Ives Civic Society.


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It means the residents have effectively shot themselves in the foot by objecting to the proposal. CCC had originally planned to consult at the same time on a traffic regulation order that would have restricted public access but that plan fell to the ground because of the objections.

Mrs Slade was sympathetic to residents' complaints about unruly behaviour, including a serious fire-setting incident, but rejected claims the public right of way would infringe on their human rights. She decided the county council had tried to mitigate the effects of the right of way, which may have been used by the public since at least 1723, by proposing to restrict late-night access.

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There was strong evidence, she said, that the public had been using the passage without let or hindrance for most of the past century until they were prevented from doing so by erection and locking of the gate.

Nothing can now happen until the objectors decide whether they wish to appeal. They have six weeks.

If they do not, the county council could make a draft traffic regulation order (as originally planned) or a draft "gating order" under the new Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005, the provisions of which became effective on April. Either way, there will be a six-week consultation period and, if there were to be objections and therefore another public inquiry, it could be another year before the matter was finally determined.

In the meantime, the residents would be acting unlawfully if they locked the gate - and arguably if they shut it, even without locking it - because it would be an obstruction to the public highway.

The county council and local users of the passage welcomed the decision. Pensioner and part-time Norris Museum helper, Peggy Seamark, of Victoria Terrace, Hemingford Grey, who has used the passage for most of her life, was stunned by the speed of the decision. "It's brilliant," she said. "I'm not often lost for words, but I am now". She added that she might object to any proposed order that would allow the gate to be locked in future.

A CCC spokesman was pleased by the result but more conciliatory. "We shall be looking at how we can help the local residents. But it is now a public footpath and should not be blocked. We shall keep an eye on what happens and take appropriate action."

Principal objector, property developer Tony Webster, who owns several properties and undeveloped land in Cow & Hare Passage, could not be contacted for comment at either of the addresses he gave the inquiry. He is, however, believed to be considering appealing the decision.

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