Madonna wins public inquiry in bid to curb access for ramblers

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The Independent Online

A long-running dispute between Madonna and ramblers who are demanding the right to roam across her Wiltshire estate is to be resolved by a public inquiry.

In the two and half years since the singer moved into the 1,200-acre Ashcombe House estate, she and her husband, Guy Ritchie, have become increasingly concerned about the threat to their privacy.

Madonna wrote to Tony Blair last year to express her concern over right-to-roam legislation which would have opened a footpath 100 yards from her Grade II listed Georgian mansion. In July, the Countryside Agency agreed that walkers would be denied access to 15-acres of the estate.

But Madonna has continued to fight to protect other parts of her estate which have been classified as "open land" by the agency. The Planning Inspectorate has decided to resolve the dispute through a public inquiry.

A spokesman for the Countryside Agency said: "The land around Madonna's house was mapped as open land and a draft map was produced last year. Four parcels of land were removed from the classification. The fact that it was Madonna's land was neither here nor there. It could have been anyone's garden."

The Ramblers' Association said that even if the land were given public access status, it did not anticipate that many walkers would visit the estate.

A spokeswoman said: "This new legislation will give people the freedom to enjoy walking in our wildest most beautiful countryside. It isn't in their interest to affect people's privacy but simply to enjoy walking. It will not mean there will be lots of people on Madonna's estate. It is not our thing to disturb people. It's just our thing to enjoy walking."

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act came into effect in January 2001 and was the first stage of the Government's plan to give access to most mountains, moorland and commons in England. Draft maps detailing proposed areas of the countryside where ramblers would gain access to pathways to private property were published the following November.

The new access rights will not be granted until 2005, when approved maps of the country will be completed. But the plans face resistance from some farmers who have used the complex appeals process to object to the maps.

If Madonna loses her case, which is scheduled for the end of March, the land will be deemed "common ground" and may be accessible to the public. The estate, near Tollard Royal, was the former home of the photographer Cecil Beaton, and lies about 25 miles from Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain. In the past, Madonna has complained about low-flying aircraft and she was ordered to take down 12ft-high security gates because she failed to apply for planning permission.

Ron Moore, 75, chairman of the Wiltshire and Swindon Rambling Association, said that although the landscape around the singer's home was extremely beautiful, the inquiry's decision would not impinge on the ramblers enjoying other local walking routes.

He said: "There is chalk downland which is very undulating. It is incredibly green and Madonna's home is at the bottom of a steep valley which is quite a long way from the nearest road."