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Bridge over troubled waters
CAMPAIGNERS have claimed a partial victory in a battle over a bridge they say blocked Forest livestock from crossing a stream.
The New Forest Equestrian Association (NFEA) says verderers and commoners met with Hampshire Council last week to discuss a bridge installed at Newlands crossing, which leads to Ibsley Common.
Now they say the council has agreed not to reinstate the gates at either end, and agreed the structure is strong enough to take the weight of horses and other livestock.
The council installed the bridge on National Trust land as it is responsible for rights of way.
But the NFEA said the new bridge fell foul of the National Trust Act, which bans any impediment to access of trust commons. They also said the bridge appeared to be made of a tropical hardwood, to which the council has not responded.
But the council has replied to the accusation the bridge has not been legally installed.
Executive member for culture and recreation Keith Chapman said: “Throughout the process we recognised the sensitivities of carrying out such work in the New Forest National Park, and in order to ensure that our work was not only legally robust, but also in keeping with local expectations, we carried out extensive consultation with various groups and organisations.
“While there are some works that require the National Trust to secure permission from the Planning Inspectorate, on this occasion the planned work did not fall under the National Trust Act 1971.
“The National Trust Act 2007 refers only to Northern Ireland and is therefore not applicable in this instance. All works carried out by the Highways Authority, were carried out within its powers under the Highways Act 1980.”
NFEA chairman Dr Tony Hockley said: “We are delighted to hear that the county council has now decided not to replace the bridge gates, as demanded by the NFEA.
“This will give us time to discuss properly the legal status of the new bridge and find a long-term solution.
“The purpose of the National Trust Act is to ensure that nothing is done that impedes or prevents access to National Trust commons.
“As the new bridge is not a like for like replacement or simply an act of maintenance and repair, it cannot be exempted from a formal application to the Planning Inspectorate.
“The NFEA and other local groups representing people who use the crossing on a daily basis were never consulted over the new bridge.
“The U-turn over the gates is an important first step.”