This is about Beecham’s Field on Walton Heath: a bit outside the usual scope of this blog, but one into which I got drawn owing to a colleague BHS access officer being away at the relevant time.
Walton Heath is an extensive area of common land, 202 hectares, register unit CL355 of the manor of Walton on the Hill, now largely adopted as a prestigious golf course. It’s owned by Walton Heath Golf Club, which maintains the course to a high standard, with some beautiful heathland covering much of the roughs. More remarkably, the heath is an ‘urban common’ subject to section 193 of the Law of Property Act 1925, which means there is a right of access for the public, including on horseback, subject to the order of limitation made by the former Minister of Agriculture. The order restricts access so as to cause damage: the BHS would therefore advise against riding on any of the tees, or on the fairways when the ground is damp or wet. It is politic to avoid riding on the fairways while the course is in play except as a means of crossing between roughs or public bridleways. The order also prohibits riding on the gallops, which were in use until the early post-war period for training horses, and which are still marked on the Ordnance Survey maps: however, since the gallops have long since ceased to be used for training, we think that the limitation in that respect is unenforceable (and it is unlikely that anyone would seek to enforce it).
Beecham’s Field is primarily a practice driving area on the south side of Dorking Road south of the recreation ground. It is crossed by public footpath 96, and fringed by the western part of the gallop (now a hard surfaced service road). The golf club applied, under section 16 of the Commons Act 2006, to deregister all of the practice area north of the footpath, and (as it must) offered replacement land (to be registered as common land) south of the M25 above the line of public bridleway 477. The replacement land has good views over the Surrey Weald, but is quite distant from any substantial areas of population.
The application was considered at a four day public inquiry in May by a Planning Inspectorate inspector on behalf of the Secretary of State, and was opposed by Tadworth and Walton Residents’ Association and others, and by the BHS (see our speaking notes to the inquiry, and closing legal submission), while the golf club retained a QC and consultants to present its case.
In short, the inspector has now issued a decision letter (go here and look for Section 16 decision letters, COM491) which grants the application, and Beecham’s Field will soon be deregistered. The decision isn’t good for local people, and I regret the outcome from their point of view.
However, provided the club keeps to its undertakings given to the inquiry as regards the replacement land, it will remove the fences along bridleway 477 (allowing riders freely to enter the replacement land), it will ensure access for horses at each end off the bridleway (restoring to use a short-cut across the lower field with magnificent views south), and it will have entered into an enduring obligation to maintain the release land (which should prevent its scrubbing up in the way that has happened to other replacement land further east). All these undertakings were given to the inquiry, and all of them were requested by the BHS. The only bit we asked for but didn’t get was access to the replacement land direct south from the bridle bridge over the M25 (instead, riders coming this way will probably need to cross the old fields south-east from the bridge to join bridleway 477, then head back west).
So a quite satisfactory outcome considering we ‘lost’. And the views from the new land really will be rather good — and accessible to riders.
And note that at no time did the golf club contest the BHS view that riders could go anywhere on the golf course provided they did not cause damage. That is worthwhile in itself.