Row over use of an ‘ancient’ public bridleway flares up

The Open Spaces Society says this sign on the bridleway past the old Lewes racecourse incorrectly diverts walkers from the public path SUS-170629-104409001
The Open Spaces Society says this sign on the bridleway past the old Lewes racecourse incorrectly diverts walkers from the public path SUS-170629-104409001
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A long-standing dispute has been reignited as campaigners claim an ancient public bridleway is ‘under attack’ by being diverted.

The bridleway from Lewes Prison to the old racecourse is the subject of the row, with the Open Spaces Society arguing access to the public route has been restricted.

The group says the path has been split without council permission to a new ‘ugly alternative road’ with the use of fences and ‘misleading’ signposts.

At points, it says, fences obstruct the pathway with a much less than 3m gap, which it says is the requirement for a bridleway which should allow two horses to pass each other easily.

Meanwhile, the Open Spaces Society says signs erected by the council have been ‘mutilated’ to point down the new route rather than the public right of way.

The group argues this is part of an effort to discourage people from using the walkway.

A spokesperson for the society said: “The ancient and popular bridleway is used by many walkers, equestrians and cyclists. It is one of the main ways Lewes residents and visitors access the South Downs.

“But they have blocked off the route and constructed a longer alternative road. Not only is this road very ugly, but it diminishes the fine view of the valley to the west.”

Responding, a spokesperson for East Sussex County Council said: “This is a complicated issue but our overriding aim is to maintain access and we’ve taken action in the past week to ensure that the bridleway at Lewes racecourse remains available to the public.

“We’re aware of the allegation that this route was changed some years ago and that the available route is not the original bridleway.

“However, this needs investigation and our advice at this point is that people should continue to use the available signposted route they have been using.

“We’re also considering an application made by the landowner to divert the bridleway to the route of the newly established track. If that application is accepted, we’ll make an order, which will be open to comment and objections by the public.

“If we refuse the diversion application, the route of the bridleway will remain legally unchanged and it will be maintained on its correct line, subject to further investigations into its historic route.”

For more information about public rights of way, email East Sussex County Council on rightsofway@eastsussex.gov.uk