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Footpath could ‘jeopardise’ highly regarded Poplar Park equestrian centre near Hollesley

PUBLISHED: 18:29 20 March 2017 | UPDATED: 08:43 21 March 2017

A cross-country horse trial held last year at Poplar Park near Hollesley. Picture: PHIL MORLEY

A cross-country horse trial held last year at Poplar Park near Hollesley. Picture: PHIL MORLEY

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The future of a Suffolk equestrian centre faces uncertainty after a public right of way was proposed to run through its top-rated cross-country course.

Horse riders using Poplar Park near Hollesley claim the new footpath could “massively jeopardise” the business, which they say is an important part of the local economy, a charity donor and has a prestigious reputation on the equestrian circuit.

The concerns centre on proposals for a public right of way to be created through the cross-country course so that walkers can access to a bluebell wood. The walkers claimed the route was used historically, though no official right of way is on record. When the path was closed-off, an application was made for it to become an official right of way.

Horse riders claim the current cross-country course could not continue with the footpath running through it for health and safety reasons, meaning it would have to be shortened to less than regulation length.

Helen Oliver, who uses the centre, said it could “massively jeopardise the business”.

“I don’t think the people behind this application realise how detrimental to the business it would be,” she added. “If these public footpaths are forced upon the landowners, they will not be able to provide a course.”

Miss Oliver, 52, whose business Roseorwell Pups sponsored last weekend’s event at the centre, said hundreds of people attended, raising £3,000 for the East Anglian Air Ambulance and Riding for the Disabled.

She said that while the owners made “nothing” from these events, they conferred Poplar Park with a prestigious reputation to support its other activities, which include renting out the course for practice rides and stabling.

“Without the course, it could have a hugely detrimental effect, not just on the owners but on the people who have their horses liveried there and the other businesses in the area it supports,” she added.

Hollesley Parish Council, which supported the application for a right of way, said it now wanted to ensure the business was not adversely affected.

“The parish council is conscious that Poplar Park is regarded as one of the top equestrian locations in the country and an important business in the parish,“ a spokesman added. “We are meeting with representatives from Poplar Park and hope we can come up with a solution whereby walkers can access the bluebell wood on certain days without compromising the events hosted by the equestrian centre.”

A spokesman for Suffolk County Council (SCC) said the path was not currently recorded as a public right of way although its committee had found sufficient evidence to support a “reasonable allegation” that a public footpath exists.

Objections to the proposed footpath have been sent to the Secretary of State for the Environment, who will point an inspector to consider the evidence, probably at a public inquiry.

“The claimed footpath can only be recorded as a public right of way if the inspector confirms the order,” the spokesman for SCC added.

A spokesman for Poplar Park said: “There’s a footpath claim across the course and we are contesting it.”

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