Victory in Snettisham beach access row completes Norfolk coastal path
Norfolk’s coastal footpath is complete today, after villagers won their fight to have a disputed section of beach declared a public right of way.
A special place
For 20 years or more, it’s been a row which has divided a village, led to the occasional confrontation and caused upset and inconvenience to locals and visitors alike.
Sitting through the public inquiry, you had to sympathise with the few chalet owners prepared to stick their necks above the parapet and give evidence.
The Beach - as the community is called - is a special place for them. But it’s a special place for a lot of other people too.
You could not ignore the ground swell of opinion in Snettisham and further afield - and the sheer numbers who said they had been using the beach path for decades.
People were very passionate about what they stood to lose, in the event that the path was closed and fenced off.
A summer’s dusk at low tide is never forgotten as the pools and mud creeks catch fire in the sunset. In winter great squadrons of geese honk and squeal in great vee formations overhead, as they set off for the beet fields inland to feed.
On any day, the view can dazzle if the air over the estuary is clear, with St Botolph’s Churn - the famed Boston Stump - visible across the bay.
But the weather can do a u-turn quicker than a politician on this coast, bringing storm clouds sailing through the sky like galleons.
Locals and visitors will be able to enjoy views across The Wash from the top of the foreshore at Snettisham, after a government inspector threw out objections.
A handful of chalet owners claimed the mile-long track along the sea defences was private and had never been a public footpath.
But hundreds submitted written evidence forms to a public inquiry last month, saying they had been using the disputed route for decades.
And now planning inspector Peter Millman, who chaired the week-long hearing, has ruled that people should be allowed to do so.
More than 100 supporters gathered to walk the path, from where you could see across the bay to Boston at low tide yesterday.
They included a pair of visiting alphorn players, who blew a celebratory fanfare on their 10ft-long instruments.
Eric Langford, chairman of Snettisham Parish Council, which led the footpath campaign, said: “It’s been a fantastic outcome, it’s a brilliant result for the village.
“It means the coastal footpath is complete, now anybody can come and enjoy the lovely views, the lovely vista we have in the village.”
Former West Norfolk Mayor and villager Zipha Christopher said: “It’s brilliant news for the village, it’s been a long hard fight. It should never have come to this.
“It’s the last bit of the Norfolk coastal path, we’re now joined up right round which is totally brilliant.”
Campaigner Lillian Richardson, from Hunstanton, said: “It’s been hard for the last four years, it’s the right result, now it’s protected for future generations.”
Yesterday, warning signs still stood near access points warning that the path was private. The row came to a head in 1991, when solicitors acting for the Snettisham Beach Property Owners Association blocked proposals to extend the Wash Coast Path along the disputed section.
In the late 1990s, there were confrontations with walkers bird watchers using the path to get to the nearby Snettisham RSPB reserve.
Over the last decade gates have been erected across the path and a number of warning signs have appeared telling people to keep off.
Rights of way authority Norfolk County Council adopted a neutral stance during the inquiry, after originally approving an application for the path to be added to the definitive map and designated a public right of way in 2013.
County councillor John Dobson, who joined campaigners at the beach yesterday, said now the signs had been shown to be illegal, the council should take them down.
“The council has attracted a lot of criticism over the last four years over its apparent inability to deal with this issue,” he said.
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