26.1 Jaci Harris, Asset Data Officer (PROW Definitive Map), gave a detailed presentation to the Committee aided by a power-point presentation, which included photographs of the claimed routes under consideration. (For information – A copy of the presentation slides is included in the minute book and has been uploaded to the Council’s website).
26.2 The Asset Data Officer tabled a letter from the clerk of South Cerney Parish Council, and an email from the Chairman of Ashton Keynes Parish Council, to be considered as part of the report. (For information – A copy is included in the minute book and has been uploaded to the Council’s website).
26.3 The Asset Data Officer informed the Committee of the following correction to the report:
Paragraph 11.4 (addition of words) amended to read - ‘All but one of the users claimed to have visited the Park for recreation…..’
26.4 The Committee was informed that Somerford Keynes Parish Council, in partnership with Ashton Keynes & South Cerney Parish Councils, submitted two Definitive Map Modification Orders (DMMO) applications for public footpaths at Keynes Country Park on 9 February 2010; one to Gloucestershire County Council (GCC) and the other to Wiltshire Council. The officer explained that the report solely addressed the application received by GCC. Although GCC owned the land extending into Wiltshire, it did not have the legal mandate to determine the application on land outside its authority.
26.5 The Committee noted the routes of the claimed paths (Route ABC, Route DF, Route BE, and Route GH) across the land within the authority of GCC, at Keynes Country Park, on the Order Plan attached at Appendix GCC3 to the report.
26.6 The Committee noted that most of the land over which Keynes Country Park was located was in the ownership of GCC, as outlined in Appendix GCC1 to the report. A small section of the land was in the ownership of the Cotswold Water Park Society Ltd , and a small rectangle of land adjacent to but not affected by the application was owned by Somerford Keynes Parish Council.
26.7 The Committee was informed that land on which Keynes Country Park was established was purchased in 1970 by GCC under the statutory provisions of the Countryside Act 1968. Section 6(1) of the Act permits the acquisition by local authorities (county or district councils) of land “to create country parks for the purpose of providing, improving opportunities for the enjoyment of the countryside by the public”.
26.8 The Asset Data Officer gave a detailed account of the history of the country park. She informed members that the Cotswold Water Park Joint Committee was created in 1967 to establish the country park. GCC leased the park to the Cotswold Water Park Society (CWPS) in 1997, and it was subsequently sub-let by CWPS to Watermark Properties in 2008. CWPS was rebranded to Cotswold Water Park Trust (CWPT) in 2011.
26.9 The Committee was informed that there was no documentary evidence with regard to this claim. Ordnance Survey Maps, Tithe Map, Inclosure Award, Finance Act Map, had all been checked but none showed any evidence of paths across the land prior to the construction of Keynes Country Park in the 1970s.
26.10 The Committee was informed that under Section 31 of the Highways Act, the date of when the public right to use the path was challenged/brought into question appeared to be when Watermark locked the gates in April 2009, as part of the implementation of its new health and safety/entrance charge per-person policies. This would give a 20 year qualifying period of 1989-2009.
26.11 The Asset Data Officer explained that the charging policy proved deeply unpopular with visitors to the park and locals. Due to the concerns expressed by members of the public and the subsequent two DMMOs alongside a 1490 signature petition, GCC wrote to Watermark and to the CWPT to ascertain whether they would be willing to dedicate a public footpath around Lakes 31 and 32. She added that this way forward would have been more expedient than the processing of a DMMO application.
26.12 The Committee noted that whilst CWPT accepted the strength of the user evidence, Watermark were not prepared to dedicate the paths, and as a result officers agreed that the best approach would be to wait until the end of the sub-lease on 10 December 2016. At that point GCC and the CWPT would dedicate a path around the country park. The Asset Data Officer explained that GCC had been negotiating with CWPT to dedicate the claimed routes, however, no agreement had yet been reached.
26.13 The Committee noted that 29 user evidence forms, completed by 31 named individuals, all claiming use of 20 years or more, were submitted in support of the application. The Asset Data Officer presented a detailed summary of the user evidence. She explained that the 1490 signature petition did not bear significant weight as evidence, due to the lack of detail regarding user.
26.14 The Asset Data Officer drew members’ attention to the fact that GCC purchased the land and established Keynes Country Park in 1970, under the statutory provisions of the Countryside Act 1968. She made the point that all but one of the user evidence forms indicated that members of the public travelled to Keynes Country Park for recreational purposes. As such the claimed recreational use on foot was deemed to be use ‘by right’ (statutory right under the provision of the Countryside Act 1968 and a form of permission). In effect, members of the public benefitted from a statutory right of permission to use the park from the outset. Therefore, the user evidence failed the ‘as of right’ test as set out under Section 31 Highways Act 1980 and required at common law. On that basis she had come to the conclusion that no order could be made to add the claimed route to the Definitive Map.
26.15 Having considered all of the information before it, the Committee
That no Definitive Map Modification Order be made to record the claimed routes as public footpaths.