From the Open Spaces Society
Local residents, backed by the Open Spaces Society,the Ramblers and the Harrow Hill Trust, have defeated plans by élite Harrow School to move two public footpaths across its sports pitches and tennis courts. The objectors fought the plans at a six-day public inquiry earlier this year. The government inspector, Ms Alison Lea, has now rejected the proposals.
Harrow School which spreads over 300 acres, is one of Britain’s most élite institutions. The annual fees are £37,350 (the average UK annual wage is £26,500). The school wanted to move two public footpaths, officially known as numbers 57 and 58 in the London Borough of Harrow, which have for centuries run in direct lines across the land now forming part of its grounds.
Footpath 57 follows a north-south route between Football Lane and Pebworth Road. The school obstructed the footpath with tennis courts surrounded by fencing in 2003. For nine years, the school even padlocked the gates across another section of the path but reopened them following pressure from the objectors.
The objectors had argued that Harrow Council should make the school reopen the path, as required by law,but instead the council agreed with the school to move the path around the obstructions.
Footpath 58 runs in a direct line between the bottom of Football Lane and Watford Road, and the school applied to move it to a zigzag route to avoid the current configuration of its sports pitches.
Alison Lea refused the proposals principally because of the impact of the changes on public enjoyment, in particular the loss of views which the Harrow West MP, Gareth Thomas, called ‘spectacular’ in his evidence to the inquiry. The paths provide direct walking routes to Harrow-on-the-Hill with its impressive church-spire, whereas the views from the diverted routes were, the inspector said, ‘unexceptional’.
She also considered that the school had exaggerated the benefits of the proposed diversions.
At the public inquiry, the school was represented by a QC, assisted by a junior barrister; the council was also legally represented, but the objectors represented themselves.
Appearing as objectors at the inquiry were Kate Ashbrook of the Open Spaces Society and Ramblers, Gareth Thomas MP, Harrow Councillor Sue Anderson, Paul Catherall of the Harrow Hill Trust, Brent Councillor Keith Perrin, and local residents Gaynor Lloyd, Christopher Eley, John Parker and Margaret Roake. Others submitted written objections.
Says Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society and footpath secretary of the Ramblers Buckinghamshire, Milton Keynes and West Middlesex Area: ‘It has taken local people 14 years of strenuous campaigning against the might of Harrow School to save these footpaths, with their splendid views and sense of purpose.
‘Now we shall press the council again to ensure that Harrow School reopens the blocked footpath 57. We shall be fortified by the inspector’s decision—the council can no longer avoid taking action to resolve this mess.’
Sisters Margaret and Dorothy Roake add: ‘As residents of almost eighty years standing we can testify that the footpaths pre-date much of the local built environment. They have been actively used by local people to reach St Mary’s church or the many hostelries and other interesting buildings that make up the village on the hill. It is natural to set one’s eye on a destination and walk straight towards it. The proposed diversions are inconvenient and considerably longer.’