Queen's banker tries to close Chaucer's footpath to Canterbury

Tony Gosling tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Tue Aug 3 19:22:08 BST 2010

Get off my land! Queen's banker in battle to close Chaucer's footpath 
to Canterbury

Mail Reporter - 2nd August 2010
click the link at the bottom for photos

A former royal banker has become embroiled in a battle with villagers 
over footpaths that once made up part of Geoffrey Chaucer's Pilgrims' Way.

The future of the ancient paths is to be decided this week in an 
inquiry over Timothy Steel's right to close them to the public.

The paths - across Kent woodlands near Adisham - are believed to be 
part of the network walked by Chaucer's characters in his Canterbury Tales.

The inquiry will decide whether Mr Steel - former vice chairman of 
the Queen's investment bankers Cazenove - has the right to fence off 
parts of the ancient woodlands.

Villagers from Adisham protested to Kent County Council (KCC) after 
three paths used by walkers and horse riders were closed off by Mr 
Steel, who put up padlocked metal gates and barbed wire and signs 
ordering them to keep out.

Retired businessman and protest organiser David Leidig, 73, said: 'I 
used to walk my dogs there almost every day, then suddenly there were 
gamekeepers driving around on quad bikes chasing people away.'

The villagers' appeal, which included more than 100 testimonies from 
people who had used the paths going back to 1927, was accepted by KCC 
last year after an eight-year battle.

The council ordered the paths registered as public rights of way.

But despite the decision, the gates have remained in place and 
following an appeal by Mr Steel, a three-day public enquiry will be 
heard this week.

One of his arguments is that the woodland is a Site of Special 
Scientific Interest (SSSI) and home to rare birds like the green 
woodpecker and plants such the Lady Orchid.

But according to Phil Williams, regional manager for Natural England, 
SSSIs were created specifically to make sure their beauty was 
safeguarded and made available to current and future generations.

He said: 'Natural England seeks to integrate people with landscapes 
and wildlife.'

And he added that he believed the paths should be opened, saying: 
'Access to these woods was previously granted under the Forestry 
Commission's Woodland Grant Scheme (and approved by English Nature).'

Natural England said that over the past 60 years there has been 
increasing disconnection from people in the UK from the natural environment.

The body said it was important to ensure footpaths like these were 
kept open so that areas of such outstanding natural beauty could 
continue to be enjoyed.

And although Mr Steel argued that keeping the public out was the best 
way to protect the land, villagers also discovered hundreds of trees 
had been felled despite the SSSI status of the area.

Villager David Leidig said: 'He wrote to the parish council saying he 
wanted villagers to stay off his land because they left rubbish 
beside the tracks.

'I think chopping down trees and dragging timber out of the woods 
would have had a much more detrimental effect on the orchids and 
birds that once lived there.'

The forestry commission however decided not to prosecute over what it 
confirmed was illegal felling, but ordered trees on the affected land 
to be allowed to regrow.

Mr Steel, 58, made millions from floating the stockbroking firm 
Cazenove in which he was a partner and later vice chairman.

He married Sophia Maude, daughter of Viscount Hawarden in 1982, and 
moved to the spectacular Norton Court, Norton near Teynham in Kent - 
and was later declared a Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Kent by the Queen.

In 2001 he started work on creating a huge private shooting estate in 
southern England by buying up woodlands, farm land and properties on 
the outskirts of Canterbury starting with woods south of Canterbury, 
and up until this year has continued to buy and fence off land.

He also converted an ancient barn at Ileden into a banqueting hall.

Professor of Law, John Fitzpatrick from the University of Kent's Law 
Clinic, which has backed locals in their fight said: 'Legally, to 
establish these routes as public rights of way one has to show that 
they have been walked as of right for 20 years - which we believe we 
have done comprehensively.

'We just hope that after years of dispute the wishes of the local 
villagers who have used these paths for so long, and who love and 
cherish them, will finally be accepted without further delay.'

Mr Steel, who is represented by the law firm Hallett & Co based in 
Ashford, declined to comment until the public enquiry has taken place.


+44 (0)7786 952037
"Capitalism is institutionalised bribery."

"The maintenance of secrets acts like a psychic poison which 
alienates the possessor from the community" Carl Jung
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <https://mailman.gn.apc.org/mailman/private/diggers350/attachments/20100803/d8841a53/attachment.html>

More information about the Diggers350 mailing list