Madonna wins battle over right to roam

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The Independent Online

The right to roam does not include the right to roam over large parts of the English country estate of the singer Madonna, a planning inspector decided yesterday.

The right to roam does not include the right to roam over large parts of the English country estate of the singer Madonna, a planning inspector decided yesterday.

The pop icon and her husband, the film director Guy Ritchie, won a partial victory in their attempt to keep ramblers out of their £9m estate on the Wiltshire-Dorset border, which faces being opened up to the public under Britain's new access legislation.

The decision means most of their land has been ruled off limits, but the couple will still have to allow people on to nearly 100 acres of downland on their 1,200-acre Ashcombe Estate, in Cranborne Chase, near Tollard Royal, Wiltshire, from the end of this year.

The estate, the former home of the photographer-to-the-gentry Cecil Beaton, is where the 45-year-old Material Girl from Michigan is turning herself into an English country lady, with the help of her 35-year-old English husband. Mr and Mrs G Ritchie, as they were referred to in the legal documents, had appealed against the Countryside Agency's decision to mark 17 parcels of land on the estate, totalling 380 acres, as "open countryside" under the terms of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, which brought the right to roam into English law.

To be declared open countryside, land must fit in one of five categories - mountain, moor, heath, down or registered common land - and the agency was claiming that the typical Wessex chalk downland areas of Madonna's estate fitted the bill.

The agency is producing access maps for the whole of England, in advance of the open countryside areas being legally available for walkers from September. But hundreds of landowners are objecting to the inclusion of their land on the maps, and Madonna and her husband were among them, arguing that the parcels of their estate marked for public access were actually agricultural land, so should not qualify.

The Countryside Agency eventually agreed that six of the 17 areas should be taken out, but contested the remaining 12, amounting to 260 acres, and this went to appeal in a week-long hearing held in Shaftesbury, Dorset, in May, which Mr and Mrs Ritchie did not attend.

Their land agent, Philip Eddell, told the hearing that allowing ramblers access to the estate on such a scale would have a "devastating" impact on their efforts to restore it to include a farm and shoot, 47 members of staff involved with the shoot would lose their jobs, and the "privacy, amenity and security" of Ashcombe House, their Grade II-listed home, would be "severely threatened".

The judgment means people will not be allowed the right to roam in sight of the house, except along an existing footpath, but will still be allowed on a significant portion of the grounds.

The planning inspector, David Pinner, said 10 of the 12 disputed areas did not fit the bill for access land, but that two, totalling 95 acres, and well away from the house, did. These will be marked as open countryside on the maps; there is no further appeal process.

Mr Pinner said in his report that neither of the segments of land declared to be open countryside by the agency was within sight of the Ritchies' home, and therefore he did not have to consider the issue of a breach of their human rights.

The Ramblers' Association said yesterday it accepted the decision of the planning inspectorate. A spokesman added: "We are delighted that half of the land contested at the public inquiry has been classed as open country and that walkers will have access to this beautiful downland."

Mr and Mrs G Ritchie were not available for comment. But if they are upset with the decision, they can always retreat to their other homes, the £7m one in Mayfair, or the £8m one in Beverly Hills.