Farmer blasts council in bridleway battle

[Fonte: Farmers Weekly]

Howard Waters stands at a gate on a bridlewayHoward Waters and one of the contentious bridleway gates

A farmer has accused a council of bullying after a dispute over gates on a public bridleway landed him in court.

Livestock farmer Howard Walters, 70, was taken to court by the City and County of Swansea for alleged unlawful obstruction of the highway, contrary to section 137 of the Highways Act 1980.

The local authority prosecuted Mr Walters after he removed six existing gates along the bridleway over the farm track and replaced them with three new gates.

See also: What farmers need to know about fencing and the law

The six gates were in situ when Mr Walters bought Tirmynydd Farm, in Birchgrove, Swansea, in 1984. But in 1992, the Welsh Office confirmed the farm track as a public bridleway with access for walkers and horse riders.

However, the bridleway also includes access to a second farm, Cilbran House Farm, which is accessed via the farm track and through Mr Walters’ farmyard.

The council decided to prosecute Mr Walters after receiving complaints about the gates from the owners of Cilbran Farm House, teachers who had bought it a couple of years ago.

At Swansea Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday 25 January, lawyers acting on behalf of Swansea council, argued Mr Walters should have first applied for permission to erect the three gates.

Council inspection

The court heard council officers inspected the bridleway in January 2016.

They concluded the gates were “not needed for stock control” and appeared to have been erected “to control access to members of the public passing along the bridleway through the farm, especially horse riders”.

In May 2016, the council served notice on Mr Walters to remove the three gates within 28 days.

When the farmer failed to comply with the notice, council staff with back up from local police removed the gates and left them at the side of the bridleway. Mr Walters later decided to rehang the gates.

But Swansea magistrates dismissed the council’s argument, saying Mr Walters had no case to answer.

Speaking after the hearing, Mr Walters’ solicitor Edward Harris told Farmers Weekly it was a boundary dispute between two neighbours and the case should never have gone to court.

Mr Harris said: “Mr Walters felt aggrieved because the owners of Cilbran Farm House seem to have the council batting on their side.

“The six gates had been in position for over 30 years across the bridleway. It had never been a problem before. In fact, the council actually attached a hunting latch on one of the gates for horse riders.”

Public safety

Mr Walters said the gates were imperative for good husbandry, biosecurity and public safety along the bridleway.

“I have had 15 months of hell here trying to handle stock. I’m on medication and I’m a bag of nerves,” he added. “Who do these people think they are? Even the Ramblers Association didn’t have any dispute over these gates.”

Swansea council denied any accusations of bullying. A spokesman said: “The route has been the subject of numerous complaints in recent years from horse riders and other users of the path.

“We have a responsibility to ensure that all registered public rights of way are accessible and we believed that gates installed by the landowner were preventing its proper use.

“The decision to dismiss this particular case is disappointing.”

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