War Memorial Gary Trouton

A letter from one of our disabled residents

March 2005

A plea from the heart to ensure that our local walks are accessible to those in wheelchairs

Dear Ray ,

My wife and I have lived in Wretton for getting on for 5 years and, to use the current idiom, we are just loving it. We have lived in quite a few places both in England and abroad and we have to confess that the proximity of the wide open spaces along the Relief Channel is a delight that we could not have imagined when we first came to Wretton.

I am disabled and therefore rely on my wheelchair and electric buggy to get around. We love to walk our dog along the pathways adjacent to the Channel from the bridge at Wretton Fen Road to Stoke Ferry Common and past the Anglian Water station over the sluice along to the aqueduct and then through the fens and back to Wretton Fen Road. My electric buggy is quite powerful and is built for off-road use. The only requirement is that I need an opening of 75cm (30") to get through gates and paths.

Imagine my consternation when one morning we found that heavy posts had been installed blocking the passage to three of the paths leading along the Channel. The fourth path is inaccessible to me as it is accessed only by a stile. These heavy posts appeared in November and we set about discovering what agency had installed them as it was clearly a professional job. They had been installed by the Environment Agency following complaints that they had received from local residents about the paths being used by motorbikes. No consultation took place with statutory organisations because of a lack of rights of way status of these paths.

Also a brand new wooden 5 bar gate had been installed with a padlock to replace the previously damaged one; and a mighty fine one it was too.

Readers familiar with this site will know that vehicular access along the paths is afforded by substantial 5 bar gates, which are kept locked. Walkers, bicycle riders and fishermen can therefore access these paths quite easily. Except for me with my buggy. The problem seems to be that irresponsible motorbike riders have been abusing the privileges that the rest of us like to enjoy by riding their motorbikes over the raised banks, damaging the flora and fauna.

We spoke to a very nice young man at the EA who informed us that the raised banks were SSSI's (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and were thus protected by law and no-one has a right of way along the paths. Except of course that local people have been enjoying the wildlife along the Relief Channel for the past 50 years and surely this establishes some sort of habitual right? These posts therefore discriminate against me with my buggy, mothers with children in push-chairs, horse riders and disabled fishermen wishing to fish from the bank. We made all these points to the EA who said that it would be a long process to establish a right of way status to these paths.

Not to be deterred I contacted Jonathan Toye of WNDiS (West Norfolk Disability Information Service) to ask his advice. Jonathan and WNDiS made the national news last year in winning a High Court case brought by a disabled person not being able to catch a train to work from his local station. They won the case and train companies will now have to try harder to afford access to disabled travellers.

Jonathan came to Wretton and inspected the site. To our astonishment someone had sawn off one of the posts down to a stump.

Also another few days later, on her usual dog-walking circuit, the brand new gate had been chain-sawed flat. We were flabbergasted and immediately phoned our friend at the EA. He was quite philosophical and said that this stupidity occurs depressingly quite often and in the end it is the tax payer who pays the bills. Wanton vandalism like this helps no-one's cause and it was a sad reflection on how people feel that they can take such measures. Now, if you walk down Wretton Fen Road to the bridge you will see an ugly metal barricade replacing the wooden 5 bar.

What do we learn from this:

1. That the Relief Channel is not common land as is Stoke Ferry Common and that access is a privilege given to local people by the EA and Anglian Water. Clearly those authorities do not object to people having access otherwise they would not have installed pedestrian gates and a stile.

2. That the top over the banks built from the spoil from the digging of the Channel are SSSI's and should be protected.

3. There are some people in our locality who in furtherance of their own selfish and stupid short-sighted ends are endangering delicate wildlife and jeopardising other people's enjoyment.

We have news from the EA that the original offending posts will be removed as it is clear that a few posts will not prevent motorbikes getting into this area, especially as access at the Stoke Ferry Common end is totally open and unbarred. So to prevent another knee-jerk reaction from the authorities it is beholding to all us local residents to take a stand against abuse of our surroundings.

Yours sincerely

Name & Address supplied


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