A GROUP of Binsted residents are fighting to get the South Downs National Park Authority to change the venue for a public inquiry in July to decide an application to move the route of an old footpath to allow a barn to be built across part of it.
Spokesman Ian Salisbury alleges the planning authority, by stating the inquiry will be held at its Midhurst office, is perverting the course of the inquiry to stop people being able to give their views because it is so far from the village.
The barn, to provide a café and farm shop, will be part of a development of four holiday units at Broadview Farm, which is owned by James Cullen, and the application seeks permission to have part of the route of the footpath changed so that it skirts around a hedge that will be used to screen the development.
As both Binsted Parish Council and 47 residents objected to the application a public inquiry has to be held but the problem, said Mr Salisbury, who is also a member of the parish council, is that “the South Downs National Park want to hold the inquiry at their Midhurst offices, but a lot of our group will have difficulty getting there as some are pensioners and others don’t have their own transport and it is a two-hour journey by train.”
This, he points out, is in spite of the fact that the procedure for public footpath inquiries is that they should be conducted “locally so the majority of those who want to attend will be able to reach it by public transport”.
Mr Salisbury also contacted East Hampshire MP Damian Hinds who, on their behalf, “had a word” with the planning authority.
Mr Hinds said they might consider moving the venue.
In a bid to get a change of venue, Mr Salisbury has sent a list of buildings to South Downs National Park Authority planning officer Richard Ferguson that he feels could host the public inquiry and would easier for residents to access. They include Alton Assembly Rooms, Alton Maltings, and Bentley Village Hall.
His only reply was an e-mail from Mr Ferguson which stated that the planning officer had taken a “proportionate approach” to looking at alternative venues.
“We are not entirely clear what that means,” said Mr Salisbury, “though it appears that he has not taken the time to visit or research local venues properly.
“If he had, he would have found that the venues proposed are eminently suitable. Since then we have heard nothing from him.”
Mr Salisbury continued: “As the inquiry was announced in January, South Downs National Park Authority have had plenty of time to book a different venue and now, because of the delay, it might be none of my suggested venues will be available on the day of the inquiry, which is scheduled to run for four days.”
The application asked for part of the path, once used by villagers to walk to churches in Bentley, to be moved to run along the outside of a hedge that will be planted to screen the barn and the units instead of crossing the site of the barn.
Apart from acknowledging his e-mail containing the list of suitable venues, Mr Salisbury said that he hadn’t anything else from the planning authority.
“My argument is with them not the owner of the land and feel that the South Downs National Park planners are perverting the course of this inquiry because people can’t get to the venue at Midhurst to state their objections,” added Mr Salisbury.
And they are now faced with another hurdle.
“We have to send in our declaration statement that we will be attending on July 17 and they have asked for a list of those who want to speak, but I don’t see how we can because we don’t know who will be able to get there on the day.”
It isn’t the first time villagers have been involved in a fight over the footpath, which Mr Salisbury says is still well used.
“At one time it was closed with a notice on it saying respect our privacy. It took us a year before we could get Hampshire Highways to open it up again,” said Mr Salisbury.
At his South Downs office on Monday, Mr Ferguson denied that he was ignoring Mr Salisbury and had replied to his e-mail.
“We have been looking at some suitable venues but here in Midhurst we have the facilities, including a large hall and our office, for holding inquiries. However, by the middle of the week we will be confirming the venue for the Binsted footpath inquiry and perhaps we will ask Mr Salisbury to come and talk with us.”