GSE Commercial Estates, which is part of the GSE Group, a large civil engineering, construction and plant hire business, committed the offences on the Waterbrook Park development at Sevington, close to the M20 at Ashford.
Last year, the company erected a fence around part of the 147-acre site, but it blocked both ends of byway AE350 in doing so. In February 2019 KCC served the company with a notice to allow public access to the byway, but this was ignored, so it sent workmen to remove enough of the fencing to reopen the path to walkers, cyclist and horse-riders once more. The cost of doing so was paid by GSE.
In September last year, having attempted to resolve matters with GSE and following repeated warnings, KCC sought to prosecute the company for their breaches of the Highways Act and disregard for the law.
The company pleaded guilty to both offences at Folkestone Magistrates’ Court.
District Judge Justin Barron said that if the issue was not resolved in a reasonable timeframe with an agreed diversion, he would be willing to hear an application from KCC for the matter to be settled with the ultimate sanction that he could make an order for the warehouses to be demolished.
KCC continues to assert that the AE350 was an important strategic link for ‘vulnerable users’ to avoid the busy roads in the area and was an important commuter link for walkers and cyclists, serving the new housing developments in the area. It directly links to the recently constructed bridge over the M20, as part of the junction 10a works. The byway will also provide a safe equestrian link between the countryside of SW Ashford through to the countryside east of the town, providing a “green corridor” through new developments.
Mike Hill, KCC’s Cabinet Member for Community and Regulatory Services said: “KCC has been highlighting the byway issue to the GSE group for several years. We understand the need to divert public rights of way to enable crucial development to take place and are very happy to advise on the best way forward which will suit the needs of both the public and the developer.
“We are clear that a Public Right of Way across a site need not prevent development to proceeding on time as happens successfully on many other developments across the county.
“Where permanent diversions are required there is a legal process to be followed and we encourage early consultation with us to avoid situations like this occurring. The Public Right of Way need not prevent a development proceeding on time, but the developer has to engage with us.
“KCC only issues legal proceedings when all other options have been explored but this case further demonstrates that we will issue legal proceedings to protect public rights of way if developers are not willing to engage. It is important that developers understand the potential implications of not taking these issues seriously and what can happen if matters do result in prosecution. The sanctions in this case send a powerful and important message.”