Villagers angry over Heiton pathway being moved

A decision by council bosses to resolve a dispute over a pathway at Heiton, near Kelso, by relocating it has been branded a disgrace by residents claiming they’ll be put at risk by that compromise.

By Kathryn Wylie
Thursday, 27th February 2020, 9:54 am
A public footpath comes to an end at Middle Marchat Ladyrig, near Heiton.
A public footpath comes to an end at Middle Marchat Ladyrig, near Heiton.

That long-running row over a right of way at Ladyrig was deemed “more a matter for a courthouse than a council chamber” by planning officers in the autumn.

It’s now being claimed that fear of a such a courtroom conflict is behind Scottish Borders Council’s decision to hand over the land the path follows to the owners of an adjacent home and have a new right of way created.

Villager Paul Keen said: “The council is effectively saying that the reason they have moved the pathway is that they couldn’t be bothered to fight it. That, coming from a democratic institution, is absolutely staggering.”

Gates at a dwelling called Middle March at Ladyrig, close to Heiton, which block a public path.

In September, applicants Robert and Lynda Jones won their fight to remove a planning condition imposed by the local authority requiring them to maintain the public footpath alongside a home, named Middle March, they built on hitherto-unused land.

Council planners, following a rejected plea to the Scottish Government’s planning appeals department, admitted that, due to rights of way being protected by law, the conditions they had imposed on the Joneses were superfluous so they were subsequently removed.

The couple’s ultimate aim was to get rid of the disputed route altogether as they claim it is not a historical right of way as it has not been accurately shown on previous Ordnance Survey Scotland and National Library of Scotland maps.

Council officers judged that not to be a decision for the council chamber, but villagers remain unhappy that the couple have fitted large gates at either side of the path and installed closed-circuit TV cameras to monitor it, claiming that gave the impression it had already been blocked off.

That row has now taken another turn, and disgruntled neighbours, 28 of whom objected to the original application last year, believe they’re being put in danger.

“The decision to back down was made by the council on Thursday and they have gone straight in with the fencing people and they are there today,” Mr Keen added on Monday.

“The whole thing is a bit of a set-up, to be honest.

“Effectively, what the council has done is they have not communicated and made a decision that, at the end of the day, is going to put people’s lives at risk by forcing them down a route that heavy-goods vehicles use regularly.

“And they are handing away a historical right of way, which I think is absolutely appalling.”

Neighbour Peter Gillespie added: “They don’t understand what route walkers are going. They have effectively removed what was historically the pathway that joined the villages together.

“At the planning meeting last September, the Joneses were represented by a legal person. They implied then that it wouldn’t be the end of it, and we never heard anything since until last week when we were notified that the council had given in to the Joneses.

“This is part and parcel again of the council being scared to take on any legal challenge.”

In an update to Heiton and Roxburgh Community Council, the local authority’s senior countryside ranger, Keith Robeson, said: “Over recent months, the homeowners at Middle March have continued to make claims to Scottish Borders Council that they were not satisfied that right of way BR20 passes through their property.

“They have argued that the right of way was never on their property and that it is currently obstructed due to fences and a ditch and, in the past, followed a different route to its current position.

“It certainly seems likely that previously it ran along the north side of the woodland strip, as indicated by earlier maps.

“Scottish Borders Council has continued to argue that a right of way does exist.

“However, faced with the possibility of a legal challenge from the home-owners, the council has agreed to use its powers to realign the right of way along the public road and farm track.”

He goes on to explain that the local authority has powers, under the 1967 Countryside (Scotland)Act to divert public paths if a shorter or more convenient route exists and describes the new route as “more convenient for users in this instance”.

He says the new route is the best solution to retain a right of way between Ladyrig and Pylafoot and that it has been agreed with the Joneses.

“The council has also agreed to remove the fingerpost and stile at Middle March, and the new line of the route will be waymarked from the public road, directing the public along the farm track leading to Pylafoot,” he added.

In the case they submitted to the council last year, the Joneses said: “The map history around BR20 is a total mess.

“It is a path of double standards. It cannot cross one garden but crosses another. It is blocked in numerous places but no one complains. It is unsigned everywhere, yet people want signs only in our garden.

“BR20 does not meet current council paths criteria.

“It does not join two public places together and is blocked in various places. Four separate officers have clearly stated it will not be unblocked.

“We have provided evidence that the 80-yard section in our garden is being treated totally differently to the wider path.”

A Scottish Borders Council spokesman said: “Scottish Borders Council agrees that a right of way exists between Ladyrig near Heiton and Pylafoot near Kelso. However, we also agree that its route has altered over time. “Faced with the concerns from the homeowners, we have been giving the matter careful consideration.

“The route before this realignment was not without difficulties, and there was the opportunity to easily divert it.

The council has therefore agreed to use its powers to re-align the right of way along a public road and farm track. The route is now more clearly defined and is considered to be an easier route for walkers to use, being on a tarmac surfaced road and farm track.

“The Countryside (Scotland) Act 1967 makes provision allowing the council to divert a public path where it is satisfied that a shorter or more convenient path exists. The alternative route is deemed to be more convenient for users in this instance.

“The council believes that this is the best solution in order to maintain a right of way between Ladyrig and Pylafoot by recognising this new line.”