Today’s public inquiry in Purley-on-Thames may result in the present ridiculous route around the village being dropped in favour of the original recommendation.
Because of a dispute with the owner of an orchard next to Purley Church in the 1780s the towpath was put on the opposite bank for 3/4 mile. This involved maintaining two ferries. The failure of the commissioners to carry through a threat of compulsory purchase 230 years ago has led to today’s inquiry.
The Thames Path cannot be placed by the water on the ‘south’ bank due to the railway. Whilst one must obviously cross the line and briefly join the main road there is no need for the present very long road detour.
I can recall working on the ‘Thames Walk’ proposals in the early 1980s when a shorter route using an existing tunnel under the railway to return to the river was suggested. Indeed Berkshire County Council made early provision for part of this stretch of path by including it in a planning agreement.
Unfortunately the developer of the properties in what is now called Hazel Road never implemented the conditions of the planning consent. Now three Hazel Road residents are against creating the path which should already have been on the ground.
A stretch in Purley Park, although not accessible, has been agreed with the landowner.
Nigel Hiscock for Natural England said: “This is the proposed route agreed 20 years ago by the Secretary of State and therefore we are actively looking to complete the route to the agreed plans.
“The current temporary route covers a lot of residential roads and does not take in enough of the scenery and points of interest of the Thames.
“However the new route through Skerritt Woods and up behind the homes in Hazel Road does meet more of our standards and would be more suitable for a national path.”
There have been 72 objections from villagers including one from Thames Valley Police claming routing the Thames Path behind Hazel Road “would increase the risk of criminal activity in the area”.
West Berkshire councillor and rambler Tony Vickers said: “I think it’s clear that the path will benefit both walkers and residents, given the choice between a shortcut or the long way round, I think almost everyone would pick a short cut. I think you have to weigh up the security issues up against whether it is convenient and needed, and I think the advantages far outweigh the objections.”
Jayne Kylie of West Berkshire Ramblers, said: “I’m fully behind the council, it will open up a whole new walk for the public and in my opinion the land behind the houses in Hazel Road has always been accessible if someone really wanted to get in behind there.”
See page 130.