As reported in your article (October 26) Telscombe residents as well as the wider public beyond are understandably annoyed by the continued unlawful blocking of footpath Telscombe 12a along the cliff-top through the Southern Water Portobello site at Telscombe Cliffs. Permission for a temporary diversion round the site was apparently granted in 1971 while excavation of a section of the cliff over which the footpath runs, took place.
In the absence of a formal diversion, the path should have been re-instated, perhaps by way of a bridge, on completion of the excavation a couple of years later. With part of the path thus left in ‘mid-air’, many landowners would have allowed the public to walk round the problem until the matter was resolved.
In this case Southern Water has continued to block the whole path through its site and the public has assumed that with such a large company legal consent for the closure would be in place.
For its part, the highway authority, East Sussex County Council, has a statutory duty to keep the rights of way network under constant review, open and in good repair.
Whereas West Sussex County Council inspects its rights of way every nine months, East Sussex County Council has completed one full inspection in more than 50 years and when the matter of the blocked path was brought to its attention by the Ramblers Association and the South Downs Society in 2005 they were unaware of the obstruction.
In 2009, ESCC finally published a diversion order maintaining the western stretch within the site on its existing legal line but moving the excavated eastern section as far as possible, immediately inside the perimeter wall thus satisfying no-one.
The order was accordingly withdrawn and the matter put to one side for a couple of years while the current works were underway.
Recently ESCC has returned with a backward step seeking to legitimise the current unlawful blockage with a so-called ‘diversion’ around the exterior of the site.
The initial approach has been made to Telscombe Town Council as landowner of Telscombe Tye which lies on the western perimeter of the Southern Water site, but as the public has existing rights to walk anywhere on the Tye such a ‘diversion’ would be of no practical use and would be equivalent to an extinguishment of the cliff-top path.
The A259 and the eastern perimeter are already separate rights of way. This proposal has been made to Telscombe Town Council on three separate occasions and rejected with the resounding support of residents associations, local amenity groups and members of the public.
ESCC now needs to take charge of the situation and secure the reinstatement of the path or come forward with a diversion proposal on which the public may be willing to compromise.
Ramblers association, Local Footpath Secretary