The villagers of Addington and congregation of Croydon’s oldest church are out and about on this damp autumnal day, performing a duty which maintains a legal right, but which sees them actively discouraging people from walking a footpath.
It’s all about the difference between a “permissive path” and a “public right of way”.
The former is a route to which the land owners allow public access.
But to maintain such status, the owners need to actively prevent access to it at least once a year.
In England and Wales, public rights of way are paths on which the public have a legally protected right to pass and re-pass.
Definitive maps of public rights of way have been compiled for all of England and Wales, as a result of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, except the 12 inner London boroughs, which, along with the City of London, were not covered by the Act. Definitive maps exist for outer London boroughs, such as Croydon.
Which brings us to the permissive path by St Mary’s Church in Addington. The act of closing the pathway on at least one day each year prevents it becoming designated as a statutory right of way.
The church wardens at St Mary’s issued a note to their parishoners yesterday.
“Once a year we have a legal obligation to remind anyone who uses the path between Roxton Gardens and Addington Village Road that it is not a public right of way. It is in fact a permissive path.
“Such paths are often closed at least once a year, so that a permanent right of way cannot be established in law.
“Tomorrow, the path will be closed. Anyone who does try to use the path will be gently informed (or reminded) that this is the private land of St Mary’s and asked to use another route.”
It is an odd quirk of the law, but will explain why any walkers and ramblers in the area will have to take a detour today which would not have been necessary yesterday, nor tomorrow.
St Mary the Blessed Virgin was the parish church used by 19th century Archbishops of Canterbury when they were staying at nearby Addington Palace, their summer residence. Five archbishops are buried at the church, as is a former Lord Mayor of London.
There is evidence of a church on the site since the time of the Norman invasion nearly one thousand years ago. It has been a Grade I listed building since the 1950s.
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