Pledge to keep kissing gates

LORNA MARSH They are as much a symbol of our rural landscape as bales of hay and rolling fields.But now quintessentially English stiles and kissing gates are under threat and in decline because of changes in government legislation.

LORNA MARSH

They are as much a symbol of our rural landscape as bales of hay and rolling fields.

But now quintessentially English stiles and kissing gates are under threat and in decline because of changes in government legislation.

Local authorities now believe that installing them along footpaths and rights of way is a breach of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) and in many cases are taking them down to make the countryside accessible to all


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This law requires public services to make “reasonable adjustments” to allow disabled access.

And although the wooden features are sometimes acceptable under the DDA many councils, including Norfolk, now deem them inappropriate in certain instances, identifying them as obstructions for people with mobility problems or with visual impairments.

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However Norfolk County Council officials reassured fans of the quaint structures that they were not liable to disappearing.

While its sister council in Suffolk has been looking at ways to replace them Paul Ryan, a countryside access officer in Norfolk, said the county was only reviewing cases on a piecemeal basis when an issue arose.

In many instances where access along a path was difficult anyway there would be no point in replacing stiles or kissing gates, he said.

“Halvergate Marshes for example which is often affected by high tides is difficult to access for someone who isn't fully mobile so to insist that the structures along there are replaced would not be appropriate at all.

“There are cases also where we would consider keeping a structure in alongside a new access point even if there were issues but the circumstances would have to be exceptional.

“We try and keep them as barriers when we can but if people are having problems then we review them.

“There is no way that they will completely disappear from the countryside.”

Guy McGregor, the Conservative council member responsible for roads and transport at Suffolk County Council, said: “We have an obligation to provide access to footpaths for everyone.

“The problem is that many kissing gates are virtually impossible to use if you are in a wheelchair. Stiles are no use for people in wheelchairs and are just as difficult for parents with children in buggies.

“There are landowners who are not interested in any access at all and so where there are rights of way it is down to the council to pay and install gates.”

John Collen, a cattle farmer and chairman of the National Farmers' Union in Suffolk, is concerned about the risk of animals escaping. “Kissing gates do a splendid job keeping livestock secure and allowing public access. It is difficult to see what alternatives there could be,” he said.

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