Royalty and public have used Snettisham beach path for generations inspector hears

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Villagers and caravan owners fighting to retain the right to walk along a coastal footpath have given evidence at a planning inquiry.

Planning inspector Peter Millman was told how the path at Snettisham beach had been walked for years by the public and even royalty, when the inquiry opened on Tuesday.

Snettisham Parish Council is applying to have the route placed on the definitive footpath map but Snettisham Beach Property Owners Association, say this is private property. Signs have been put up in the area to state it is private land and walkers have been challenged.

The inquiry is being held after some property owners objected to Norfolk County Council’s application to have the path officially listed.

Eric Linge, who celebrated his 84th birthday on Wednesday, told the inspector that he and his friends walked the path for many years but were never told to “stop or that it was private property.”

Mr Linge, who was born in Snettisham but now lives in Hunstanton, told the hearing that the beach was cut off and mined during the Second World War, when it was used by Allied forces.

He also stated that relatives were excited to have come across Princess Margaret while walking in the area.

During cross examination Mr Linge said: “How long does it take for a right of way to be established? I have been going along there since the 1940s - that’s almost a lifetime.”

Robert Fletcher told the inspector his family had owned property near the beach since the 1960s and often uses the path himself.

He said: “I don’t recall being challenged or interrupted or any signs or notices until later years.”

Barbara Devonshire-Ward told the inquiry her family had owned property at Shepherd’s Point since 1956.

She said: “I was treasurer of the Snettisham Beach Property Owners Association. I resigned over the issue of the signs. I felt they were causing trouble, offensive and brought about the thing they were sought to avoid.”

Another beach property owner Caroline Culey told the hearing that she was “saddened” to be giving evidence.

Mrs Culey said she had spent time at the beach throughout her life. She said: “As a resident of 50 years I am personally certain that the bank has always been used as a public footpath.”

Val Letchford said she has been walking the path since 1993 after the route had been published in a walking magazine. She said: “We have walked that route for a long time.

“We thought it was a definitive path.”

Parish council chairman Eric Langford also gave evidence on Tuesday.

Mr Langford said a dispute had arisen after signs, gates and fencing were put up on the route in 2010 and that parishioners were “overwhelmingly” supportive of the action being taken by the council.

Mr Langford’s statement says: “Because the signs not only deter use of what the parish considers to be land which there is a public right of access under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.”

Derek Ebbs was taken ill while giving evidence at the inquiry in the Memorial Hall on Wednesday.

The inquiry is continuing.