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Britain needs a Right of Public Access to Land

An ex-banker to the Queen has urged a public inquiry to allow him to close part of Chaucer’s Pilgrims Way that runs over his estate by telling inspectors they should remember they are not in Zimbabwe or Cuba or Scotland. Timothy Steel who is the former vice chairman of the Queens investment bankers Cazenove has become embroiled in a battle with villagers over the ancient paths across the woodlands in Kent near Adisham.

Yesterday he handed a dossier of evidence to the inspectors – including a letter which he wrote and sent to Adisham parish council. In the letter he said villagers seemed to “view land ownership with a mixture of envy and contempt” and added that the attempts by locals to walk over private land “might have resonance in Zimbabwe, Cuba and possibly Scotland, but it is an anachronistic form of totalitarian thinking, which has been abandoned by most other former Communist regimes.” He also accused locals of a vendetta against him and said he would “not be bullied into allowing the right to roam at all times” over either his land – or that of his brother-in-law Lord Hawarden.

The inquiry opened last month with evidence from villagers and restarted with testimony from another local walker – Sir Geoffrey Nice QC – who was the war crimes prosecutor in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic at The Hague. The inquiry is expected to close this week to decide the matter. Villagers from Adisham had protested to Kent County Council after three paths used by walkers and horse riders were closed off by Mr Steel, who put up padlocked metal gates and barbed wire and signs ordering them to keep out. Retired businessman and protest organiser David Leidig, 73, said: “I used to walk my dogs there almost every day, then suddenly there were gamekeepers driving around on quad bikes chasing people away.”

The villagers appeal, which included more than 100 testimonies from people who had used the paths going back to 1927, was accepted by the council after an eight-year battle, and the council ordered the paths registered as public rights of way. But despite the decision, the gates have remained in place and following an appeal by Mr Steel, the public inquiry was ordered.

Henry Law comments
: it is Britain that is out of line here and this is a human rights issue. The country’s land tenure system is worse than feudal. It needs a Right of Public Access.