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court ref no: CO/1225/76 ...
court ref no: CO/1225/76

A couple's bid to banish ramblers from the garden of their 'substantial' home in the heart of the unspoilt Wear Valley has ended in failure in London's high court.

John and Margaret Page say a footpath which passes the front gate and gravel drive of their home - Stanhope Grange, Stanhope, County Durham - and cuts through part of their garden poses a constant threat to their privacy and security.

But high court judge, Mr Justice Keene, said their proposal to divert the path away from their land had caused much local controversy and dismissed their challenge to Durham CC's decision that the route of the path should remain where it is.

The judge said the path ran to the rear of Stanhope Grange and the couple were deeply concerned about their security. They had been stung into action when Mr Page was 'physically assaulted' by a user of the footpath.

But Wear Valley DC said the path, if diverted, would be longer, on a steeper gradient and 'less comodious to the public'.

Stanhope Parish Council also objected to diversion of the path saying it would 'cause great inconvenience' to local residents.

Lawyers for Mr and Mrs Page claimed they had not been given a fair hearing by the council's rights of way sub-committee at a public hearing in Stanhope town hall in January last year at which they were unanimously refused a footpath diversion order.

But Mr Justice Keene rejected claims the sub-committee had failed to take full account of the couple's wish for security and privacy and had given 'undue weight' to the footpath's status as a 'historic route' which has been in public use for up to 100 years.

The couple also claimed the council had taken into account 'irrelevant' accusations levelled against them by some local people about obstruction of the path and 'instances of intimidation of users of the path.'

But the judge said the sub-committee had received 'clear advice' from council officers not to take any of the allegations into account when reaching its decision.

'It is quite impossible to conclude that the sub-committee took into account any irrelevant considerations,' he ruled.

Mr and Mrs Page claimed there had been 'a number of procedural irregularities' at the sub-committee meeting which prevented them from fairly putting forward their case.

The judge said the layout of the meeting had been 'somewhat unusual', with some members of the sub-committee sitting in public areas of the hall amongst non-members.

But he ruled: 'I see nothing unfair about the particular physical arrangements adopted at the sub-committee meeting. There was no indication of any procedural unfairness.

'I am not persuaded that the sub-committee took into account any immaterial considerations or failed to take into account any material considerations, or that it was biased.'

Mr and Mrs Page, who were not in court to hear the judge's ruling, were ordered to pay the action's legal costs which are certain to run into thousands of pounds.

Their solicitor, David James, said later Stanhope Grange was a 'substantial property' - converted from a colliery building in the 1980s and bought by the Pages in the 1992.

'Naturally, my clients will be disappointed,' he added.

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