Protest follow in houseboat's wake

OCCUPANTS of a houseboat who have stirred up a barrage of protests after blocking a river path say they had to close the popular walk for safety reasons.

OCCUPANTS of a houseboat who have stirred up a barrage of protests after blocking a river path say they had to close the popular walk for safety reasons.

More than 200 walkers have filled in user evidence forms claiming the walk on the river wall at Melton should be a public right of way, and the River Deben Association says a public inquiry could be the only way to resolve the issue.

But the path along the river wall is currently not an official right of way – and it is on land leased to a couple living on a houseboat alongside Wilford Bridge.

Elizabeth Berry, one of the leaseholders, said the path has been closed off for health and safety reasons following an incident involving a small child last year, and security and privacy following trespass, criminal damage and harassment.

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"The land is private and there is a public liability issue which we must consider as we have a responsibility if the path is not a public right of way and if they wander off the path," she said.

"Suffolk Coastal District Council will not allow us to fence it.

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"The authorities are responsible for public rights of way, not us. If they have failed in their duties to 'continuously revise rights of way' then they have to deal with any mistakes. We are not in a position to negotiate a settlement, not that we have been asked to, and cannot create a public right of way.

"We have no obligation, but have, for some time, opened an alternative permissive route to allow the public a just as good path to Wilford Bridge, without going anywhere near the quay which is dangerous for them.

"This is all we can offer and is more than reasonable. If the ramblers would accept it, then it will be improved with a slope instead of steps to join the lower path and could eventually become the right of way if everyone agreed the route and they drop their claim on the top path, which could take years with no guarantee of success."

She said they had gone out of their way to find a sensible solution, but the ramblers were more interested in a fight than a resolution.

The top path along the wall has been blocked with metal barricades, cuttings from shrubs and trees, and "private – no right of way" signs.

Although the footpath has been used by many people for around 12 years, it is not part of the Definitive Map and not a legal right of way.

The problems have arisen because when the sea defences along the river bank were constructed about 1990 the Environment Agency failed to fulfil the formality of registering a diversion from the original footpath just below Wilford Bridge and replace it with the new tow path.

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