Fears that 20-year fight to create new public footpaths in Preston could come to nothing after objections lodged

Residents and ramblers have reacted with dismay to the prospect that a two-decade campaign to get more than half a dozen footpaths in suburban Preston designated as public rights of way could yet end in failure.

By Paul Faulkner
Tuesday, 28th December 2021, 12:30 pm
Updated Tuesday, 28th December 2021, 1:07 pm

Locals who have been pushing for official recognition of the routes in Ingol were jubilant last year when Lancashire County Council issued orders for the so-called “definitive map” of public footpaths to be modified, so that the currently informal connections in the area were included on it.

The decision appeared to bring to an end a tortuous process which was initiated by Preston couple Ruth and Gordon McNamara back in 2000. As members of the Mid Lancashire branch of the Ramblers Association, the keen walkers took the first steps towards having the seven paths - some of which cross the former Ingol Golf Course - made part of the rights of the way network.

However, the bureaucratic twists and turns of the next 20 years meant that the husband and wife sadly did not live to see the paths’ official status come to pass. Some of the routes are barely usable or even blocked off entirely, while others are hard-surfaced and give every appearance of already being rights of way.

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David Renwick wants access restored to routes like this one which takes in part of the former Ingol Golf Course

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It has now emerged that objections have been lodged to the four proposed paths that impinge on the golf course site - which could mean that the hopes of local walkers are once again sent down a dead end.

Permission was granted to Preston North End to build a training ground on part of the disused golf course back in 2017 and, the following year, the club purchased the required land from Cleator Manor Limited - a company owned by the Lilywhites’ late owner, Trevor Hemmings.

Approval was also given in 2017 to build up to 450 homes on the remainder of the site, with the housing scheme intended to fund the proposed football facility. The Post understands that the objections to the footpath orders have come from Cleator Manor.

The seven proposed public footpaths in and around Ingol are popular with dog-walkers

Mid Lancashire Ramblers Association branch chair Brian Dearnaley says that best hope for guaranteeing the future of the paths is to ensure that they are officially registered before any properties are built.

“Once [public footpaths] have been created, a developer would then have to go through a legal process to close them - and it would probably be far easier to [incorporate them] within the development.

“They might be on tar, but at least you'd still be able to walk through [the area] - and it couldn't become one of these estates where you've got no pavements and they're all cul-de-sacs that you can't get out of,” Brian added.

Lancashire county councillors concluded that footpath features like this stile - as well as evidence that people had walked these routes for more than 20 years - was evidence that they should be officially designated as public rights of way (image: Lancashire County Council)

He also said that making the paths official would be a fitting tribute to Mr. and Mrs. McNamara who were so committed to securing public rights of way that when Ruth was near the end of her life, the Ramblers Association held meetings at her bedside so that she could still attend them.

In order for the definitive map to be modified, evidence has to be presented that the routes have been used continuously for at least 20 years. In this case, some locals attested that they had trodden the paths in question for several decades longer than that.

The unanimous decision by members of Lancashire County Council’s regulatory committee to publish the orders in March 2020 also hinged, in part, on whether the former Central Lancashire Development Corporation – which co-ordinated plans for housebuilding in the area during the 1970 and 1980s – had meant for the routes to become public footpaths.

Speaking about one of them linkages - from Lightfoot Lane to Tanterton Hall Road - County Hall’s senior solicitor, Jane Turner, said at the time that there was evidence of “ditch crossings, stiles and the way paths were formally surfaced” that suggested an intention to create formal routes.

Four out the seven proposed public footpaths - like this one, which could previously be accessed from Walker Lane - cut across the former Ingol Golf Course and have been the subject of objections. These will now be considered by a planning inspector,

David Renwick, who lives close to the former golf course, regularly took his dog for a stroll along a route that ran from Walker Lane and crossed the 15th fairway until it was fenced off around three years ago. Although not officially a public footpath, he says that it was signed as such with a fingerpost marker which was “tossed into a bush” after the barriers were erected.

He took the sign home to store it - and hoped that it would soon be hammered back into place when the map modification orders were issued last year.

“It was a very popular route - and the many people who used [it] have been thwarted.

“[The paths that remain open] are a great amenity - even more so since lockdown, when people had to start taking some pedestrian exercise. They are much busier than they used to be - perhaps because people have either got into the habit of walking or because they acquired a dog.

“We’re building so many houses - so residents have got to be able to exercise somehow, somewhere,” David said.

He also fears that a national cut-off date for historical additions to the public rights of way map in January 2026 could yet be reached before a decision has been made over the contested paths in Ingol.

“It seems to have been a complete dereliction of responsibility by Lancashire County Council not to have done something about it [in] 21 years. Now [I have been told] that because of the objection to the orders, it will have to be referred to the Planning Inspectorate - and it could take several years [to resolve].”

The inspectorate, which rules on objections to rights of way proposals, told the Post that its target timeframe for dealing with such matters ranges from 37 to 45 weeks depending on whether they are considered via written representations or a local inquiry hearing.

However, a spokesperson stressed that the clock only starts ticking once all of the necessary documentation has been received, adding: “It should be noted that this timescale only relates to the Planning Inspectorate and work on such cases prior to reaching us can lead to very long overall timescales.”

David Goode, public rights of way manager for Lancashire County Council, said: "We have received an objection to four of the seven orders following the publication of definitive map modification orders relating to a number of paths in the Ingol area.

"This means that the application for these paths to be recorded as public rights of way will have to be decided by the Planning Inspectorate.

"We would hope that a decision can be made within a reasonable timeframe - however, we can reassure people with an interest in this case that ongoing applications should not be affected by the January 2026 cut-off date extinguishing unrecorded pre-1949 footpaths,” Mr. Goode added.

The Post was unsuccessful in its attempt to contact Cleator Manor Limited for comment on the company's objections to the footpath orders. Preston North End did not respond to a request for a comment on the situation nor for an update of its training ground plans for the former golf course site. Eighteen months ago, the club bought Wigan Athletic’s training facility in Euxton – putting a question mark over its long-term plans to build their own state-of-the-art venue in Ingol.

In August 2020, former PNE chair Peter Ridsdale, in his capacity as a representative of Trevor Hemmings at that time, told the Post that work had begun on a scheme on the former golf course “to ensure that over half of the land previously privately owned now becomes available for public use”.

"On the balance of the land previously occupied by Ingol Golf Club, over 80 acres have already been gifted as public open space [and] this land equates to over three quarters of the size of Moor Park,” Mr. Ridsdale added.

When Preston City Council’s planning committee approved the controversial housing plan for the golf course, they heard that the training ground would take up 15 percent of the site and the housing 25 percent – with the remainder being publicly accessible open space.

As this was previously private land, it was considered by the authority as an addition to the city’s green space, but residents claimed that much of it was just overgrown woodland.

PATHS OF PROGRESS?

These are the seven routes in Ingol that it is proposed are designated as public rights of way - four of which have been the subject of objections.

ROUTE 1 (objection) - Lightfoot Lane to Tanterton Hall Road - via Tom Benson Way, an area of woodland and land comprising the former golf course.

ROUTE 2A (objection) - Walker Lane to Tanterton Hall Road - via the former golf course before joining up with another path.

ROUTE 2B (objection) - Walker Lane to Lightfoot Lane - via a wooden stile and across the former golf course.

ROUTE 3 (no objection) - Manor Court to southern bank of Sharoe Brook - via wooden bridges, a ‘kissing gate’ and an area of woodland.

ROUTE 4 (no objection) - From footpath linking Dukes Meadow and Mayfield Avenue through to Walker Lane - via footbridge and ‘kissing gate’.

ROUTE 5A (no objection) - Lower Greenfield to Walker Lane - via a crossing over Sharoe Brook

ROUTE 5B (objection) - Walker Lane layby to southern bank of Sharoe Brook, via the former golf course and a strip of woodland separating the course from the railway line.

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