Dispute over road access to St Michael’s

An extraordinary dispute is going on between the Friends of Budehaven Parish Church (FoBPC) and Efford Down House Ltd (EDHL) about disabled access to St Michael’s Church. This was originally reported in the Bude & Stratton Post in October.

The Friends of Budehaven Parish Church noticed a “no access to churchyard by motorised vehicles” (which includes mobility scooters) sign, erected by Efford Down House Ltd. Strong words have followed from both sides, so inflammatory language has been removed from this report.

Rupert Brendon, Founder and Chairman of FoBPC, feels the purpose of the sign is as follows, saying:

Its purpose is to stop those reliant on wheel-chairs and mobility scooters, and other disabled folk who cannot climb the steps in front of St Michael’s, from using a path that gives them step-free entry to their place of worship. EDHL acknowledge that there is a right-of-way/public footpath, running from behind 15 Falcon Terrace, the Brendon Arms and the Falcon Hotel.

The public footpath originated from Ebbingford Manor (formerly the vicarage) and runs north across the EDHL private road to the side entrance to the church. But they deny that this permits disabled people to approach the side entrance south from Church Lane. And they claim that their insurers won’t indemnify them against any loss or injury accidentally sustained by church-goers on their private road.

The entitlement of pedestrians and vehicles to use EDHL’s private road in order to reach the back of the Brendon Arms was established at Truro County Court in 2010. Recorder Grice gave a comprehensive judgement stating that all persons can at all times, on foot or in vehicles of all types, gain access to what is “a right of way by prescription”. 

The verdict reflected the evidence of ten witnesses, who testified on oath that pedestrians and traffic had been using the right of way behind the Brendon Arms and the Falcon Hotel, and thus EDHL’s private road, for many decades.

Both Efford Down House and St Michael’s Church were built by the Victorian landowner and philanthropist Sir Thomas Acland.  It was to help preserve that legacy, by maintaining the church building and making it more accessible to everyone in the community including disabled people, that the charity FoBPC was founded. 

FoBPC feels that any public liability insurance would surely cover mobility scooters and similar, and wishes to make an application to Cornwall Council for an Order for the right-of- way/public footpath to be extended to Church Lane as shown on this plan as a dotted line. For more information on this, please email admin@fobpcbude.org 

Efford Down House Ltd directors have now responded. They say:

The issue relates to the potential use of part of our private road by members of the public wishing to access St Michael’s Churchyard. There is no public right of way over this part of the road.

The existence of a public footpath from the rear of the Brendon Arms across a short stretch of the private road is not disputed. The existence of a prescriptive right of way for the Brendon Arms over the stretch of the private road from Church Lane to the junction with the public footpath for purposes associated with the Brendon Arms, is also not disputed. 

The issue at hand arose when the Friends of St Michael’s Parish Church (FoBPC) unilaterally decided that the section of the road owned by Efford Down House Limited, over which there is no public right of way, must be made available to allow disabled visitors access to the Church.

As owners of a private road we have certain legal obligations thrust upon us including those relating to the matter of insurance. 

Our insurers have made it abundantly clear that, as a result of certain changes in the law, as it stands at present, risks which would arise from the use of our private road by disability scooters are not covered by our public liability insurance.  We have voiced our genuine and proper concerns about this to the FoBPC and to the Church.

We are in the process of working through the implications of this with the Church before we can come to any form of agreement about the use of this part of our private road. We continue to talk to the Church about this and alternative ways in which we might be able to assist the Church. 

We would very much like to achieve an outcome which is agreeable to the Church but we have to recognise and operate within the constraints which apply to us. 

 

Let us hope that both sides can reach an amicable agreement on this issue for the benefit of all.

The Church was also invited to comment. Rupert Brendon, Chairman, Founder, Trustee of Friends of Budehaven Parish Church has now responded to EDHL:

Is EDHL aware that pedestrians have and still do use the public footpath that starts from the Old Vicarage and goes north  down the EDHL road and onwards to Church Lane? Is EDHL aware that continuous usage of this route since Victorian times (over 20 years)  is the basis of “prescriptive rights” because of its long use and enjoyment, without force, secrecy or permission.

Is EDHL aware that invalid carriages/mobility scooters are permitted to use Public Footpaths and can therefore use the EDHL road northbound  to reach the side entrance to the church, so why not southbound from Church Lane? Can EDHL cite the source of their claim that  “certain changes to the law…presents risks”. Our insurance agents and searches of Government sources reveal no changes to the law relevant to this case.

Does EDHL’s public liability insurance policy carry an endorsement to specifically exclude mobility scooters? Your Public Liability insurance carries wording “excludes liability in connection  with use of a vehicle by you or on your behalf “…It says nothing about excluding  third parties or the general public. 

We are glad to read that EDHL wishes to reach an amicable agreement.

The debate will no doubt continue.

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