Property: Ramble away, but not through my backyard

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The Independent Online
Looking up from her weeding one day, a householder saw a party of 50 ramblers approaching her garden. She discovered that the path running past her living-room window was a right of way, and had been the focus of a rambling feature in the local newspaper.

When she bought the house, in the tiny village of Glooston, in Leicestershire, six years ago, Jane Davies had no idea there was a right of way - and nor did anybody else. The 240-yard footpath had not been used for 30 years and was only rediscovered during a local survey.

'My greatest concern was that to have people walking through the garden would have made the house unsaleable,' she said.

According to Alexander Hunt of the estate agent Strutt & Parker, an intrusive footpath can lower the value of a property by 10-15 per cent and causes alarm among prospective buyers, even when the path is rarely used.

Fortunately, Mrs Davies was able to enlist the support of neighbours and her district council to petition successfully for a deletion of the right of way. But the procedure to divert or delete a right of way is time-consuming and costly. Deletions are generally unacceptable to the Ramblers' Association and usually have to be referred to the Secretary of State for the Environment. Diversions are easier to achieve, particularly if an acceptable alternative route is offered. This could involve negotiating with adjoining landowners who might not be too keen to see a footpath transferred to their property.

A diversion must be approved by the Ramblers' Association, British Horse Society and any other interested groups. If an objection is received, the diversion will have to be decided by an inspector from the Department of the Environment and that can take up to a year, with no guarantee of success. Not surprisingly, faced with such a long-winded procedure, many householders choose to screen the offending path, or to signpost an unofficial diversion with a 'polite notice'.

ETON COLLEGE is to become a major property developer. It is fronting a proposal to build a new village at Cippenham, near Slough. Covering almost 200 acres of farmland, the planned 1,200-unit settlement is the largest housing development on the western fringe of London, where green-belt protection makes development land a scarce resource.

The site was identified for residential use in the 1988 Berkshire Structure Plan and will go some way towards meeting Slough's new housing needs. Eton College, which owns a large estate of agricultural land between Eton and Slough, has submitted a planning application on behalf of a consortium of landowners. The village would include a school, community hall, neighbourhood centre, play areas and open space.

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