New road could be driven through Norfolk grandmother's garden
- Credit: George Thompson
With its carefully trimmed lawn, neatly manicured flower beds and dozens of recently-planted trees, John and Ann Scott's garden is clearly their pride and joy.
But not everything is rosy in this picturesque patch of green in the tiny village of Thompson, between Watton and Thetford.
The couple's garden is the subject of an extraordinary decade-long wrangle with Norfolk County Council, which insists a public right of way crosses through it.
Officials say the couple must open their garden up to allow vehicles to drive along a minor road they say runs through it.
The saga is set to come to a head next week with government inspectors called in to hold an inquiry into the Breckland garden path and to decide the matter once and for all.
Ann Scott, 74, said: “This will affect our whole lives. It's made our lives a misery.
"I’m fighting because I would be broken if people were coming through my garden turning it into a dirt path.
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“I don’t want horses or motorbikes or what have you coming through."
The Scotts have lived at their home in Pockthorpe Lane for almost 24 years but first became aware of the issue in 2013, when an elderly villager claimed at a parish council meeting that a footpath had once passed through the garden.
The parish council checked with Norfolk County Council, which holds records of rights of way.
It did not agree but instead said that the garden was traversed by a byway open to all traffic - known in planning jargon as a 'BOAT'.
This is a highway along which the public have a right of way for vehicular and all other kinds of traffic.
The local authority says it should run from across the Scott's garden from Pockthorpe Lane along to Sparrow Hill, which eventually leads to Peddars Way.
The Scotts, who are both retired teachers, dispute all this and argue there has never been a public footpath or road there.
When the pair bought their home, with around half an acre of land, a legal survey did not find any evidence of footpaths.
Mrs Scott said their plight showed flaws in the rights of way system, which allowed people to claim lost footpaths on historical evidence.
“The public rights of way system is fit for purpose,” she said.
“Anybody can claim a lost footpath, it doesn’t have to be on a map - it could just be marked as a track 100 years ago.
“Then it gets in the system and it takes years to fight.”
Ms Scott has done extensive research about the potential route, having accrued folders of council minutes and documents, and lodged freedom of information requests.
To highlight the what she sees as the "absurdity" of the system, she has submitted footpath requests of her own - including one for the family estate of prime minister Boris Johnson.
In 2020, she claimed a footpath on the Johnson estate in Exmoor, Somerset. The PM said he was in favour of people claiming footpaths and would collaborate with any investigation.
Mrs Scott has also claimed paths on broadcaster Sarah Beeny's land. She insisted it was not personal and bore Ms Beeny no grudge but wanted to raise the profile of her fight.
Claims for historic footpaths have skyrocketed in recent years after the government introduced a 2026 cut-off date to record historic routes which existed before official records began in 1949. Councils have had to spend thousands on investigations.
Before the case, Ms Scott and her husband used to allow their neighbours across their land to get access to the fields beyond but have now had to put up signs saying there is no right of way.
The grandmother argues there is a difference between having control over the land and letting people through and people forcing their way through.
If the pair lose the case they face the prospect of committing a criminal offence just for locking a gate to their garden.
The government's Planning Inspectorate will be holding a hearing into the case on Tuesday.
A Norfolk County Council spokeswoman said they would not be able to comment on the case ahead of the hearing.
What do the neighbours think?
Pockthorpe Lane neighbours had mixed on the application with some supporting it while others were more cautious.
While none said they were concerned about ramblers using the lane as a route to the Peddars Way, some were worried it might lead to dirt bikes and other vehicles cutting through.
One neighbour, who asked not to be named, said: “It worries me that we have a nice quiet lane, I have not got a problem with the ramblers and that sort of thing, but it would be a problem if we started having people on quadbikes or scramblers.
“If that became a regular thing it would ruin the tranquillity of this area.”
How did we get here?
The issue arose in 2013 when a resident got in touch with the Thompson Parish Council to say that footpath from Pockthorpe Lane to Sparrow Hill was listed on a 'definitive statement' of paths but not on a 'definitive map'.
Definitive maps are records of public rights of way in England and Wales.
A year later the parish council requested that the route be added to the map, which was initially rejected by Norfolk County Council.
By 2016 an entry for a Thompson footpath was removed from the definitive statement.
In 2017, NCC then submitted an application to record the route as a byway open to all traffic.
Because Ms Scott objected, the matter was referred to the secretary of state for the environment.
A Planning Inspectorate inquiry was due to be held in April 2020 but it had to be postponed due to the pandemic.