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Page last updated at 10:46 GMT, Monday, 8 February 2010
Pete Turtill's rights of way campaign at Ipswich docks
By Andrew Woodger
BBC Suffolk

New Cut East, Ipswich waterfront
Access to New Cut East is controlled by the port authority

An Ipswich rights of way campaigner is hoping a public inquiry will allow us to walk, and drive, anywhere around the town's waterfront.

Pete Turtill, of Suffolk Rights of Way Ltd, claims the port authorities and some firms are restricting access which is enshrined in law.

Associated British Ports says, on roads such as New Cut East, the original laws no longer apply.

Suffolk County Council is submitting the case to the government.

"At one time you could drive across the lock gate and St Peter's Port to get to Wherstead Road," said Pete Turtill who helped set up Suffolk Rights of Way Ltd.

He's campaigning for what he insists is our right to use all the roads around the waterfront, including New Cut West, New Cut East and the northern and eastern length of the quayside from Stoke Bridge, past the new flats, the restaurants, the old Tolly Cobbold brewery and beyond.

He believes these rights are legally enshrined in the Ipswich Docks Acts dating from 1805.

Ipswich docks, 1900
'The island' in the middle of Ipswich docks, 1900

"They are rights - they actually belong to us," said Mr Turtill. "Nobody can take them away from you without going to court or getting a court order.

"You can't just put a gate on them which is what's happening at the moment.

"I've lived here all my life - I know where the rights of way are and so do a lot of people older than me."

That attitude has landed him in court. He's been fined hundreds of pounds in the past for his campaigning which has seen him take hacksaws to chained gates and try and push them open with his car.

"I feel very guilty about this because I worked overseas," said Mr Turtill. "So I wasn't paying attention to what was happening to my town and a lot of the footpaths have been closed down and built on.

"It's out heritage and our history - it belongs to us and now they're trying to take it away and give it to posh people with lots of money.

"It's not a Parisian street where people sit and drink Pimms. It's a thoroughfare.

"It's not so much sticking up for cars, it's the right."

Mr Turtill isn't as mobile as he was, and says he needs a car to get around these days.

The commercial case

Ipswich waterfront
A gate prevents access for vehicles on Ipswich waterfront

Associated British Ports (ABP) is based at the Old Custom House and has put a gate across New Cut East.

"The Ipswich Dock Acts included a network of roads, some of which were to be for the benefit of the public, some not," said Alaistair MacFarlane, port manager for ABP.

"We accept that New Cut East was set out as a public right of way but we consider that the public rights were stopped under the provisions of the Ipswich Dock Act 1913 to facilitate the commercial use and development of the port and the island site in particular.

"Since that occurred the commercial use of the area has continued and is not compatible with public access.

"The gates on New Cut East are therefore not obstructing a public right of way and are necessary for safety and security purposes."

ABP said it's not responsible for the northern and eastern quays, but believes they have restricted byway status meaning the public can't drive there freely.

Public inquiry

Andrew Woodin of Suffolk County Council
Andrew Woodin's rights of way team is based at Endeavour House in Ipswich

Somewhere in the middle is the footpaths and rights of way team at Suffolk County Council.

"I think [Pete Turtill's] got every right to do what he's done," said Andrew Woodin, countryside access officer referring to his legal campaigning rather than his brushes with the law.

"He's a champion of rights of way in the town.

"We're the honest broker which manages the 'definitive map'. Now we've brought the map into being for Ipswich, we've got to start adding the routes to it, but it's not a case of waving a magic wand and drawing lines on it.

"You have to go through a legal process and landowners may have a different view about their public status.

"The Docks Acts are incredibly arcane and you can read the evidence in them two ways sometimes.

"They may be public, but are they footpaths, bridleways, restricted byways which don't allow vehicles or are they full byways which allow everyone from a walker to an articulated vehicle to go down there?

"Just because you see photos of people walking down there doesn't mean they're public."

The county council team believes there is a right of way along some of New Cut East, and they're submitting their position to the government's Planning Inspectorate.

A spokesman for Ipswich Borough Council, which has overseen the redevelopment of the waterfront, said: "We are not aware that regeneration around the waterfront has affected any rights of way."

A public inquiry is yet to be scheduled, but the county council says it could take place in 2010 if all runs smoothly.

The definitive maps are kept by the county council at Endeavour House in Ipswich.

Pete Turtill of Suffolk Rights of Way Ltd.
Pete Turtill runs Suffolk Rights of Way Ltd. from his home in Priory Heath

Turtill's message for society

Mr Turtill, who's 66, claims his group is sticking up for the little guy in the face of the redevelopers.

"When I was in the scouts there was all this stuff about if the Germans come, you've got to know where the footpaths are so you can ambush them!

"It was all boys stuff - pretty silly, but if today's youth can see the law being broken by authorities who they should respect, how can they be expected to obey the law themselves?

"This is the land my parents and grandparents died for - I'm going to keep it."

Court victory over country park

In February 2010, Mr Turtill had his first court victory over the authorities after a separate campaign involving footpaths at Orwell Country Park in Ipswich.

K barrier on a footpath at Orwell Country Park, Ipswich
One of the K barriers at Orwell Country Park which has since been removed

He'd been unable to get his motorised wheelchair through 'K barriers'/gates which had been put in to prevent motorcycles gaining access via Brazier's Wood Road.

Appearing before magistrates in the town, Ipswich Borough Council pleaded guilty to three charges of 'wilfully obstructing a highway'.

They were fined a total of £750.

An council spokesman said: "We accept that we were guilty, but stress that the obstructions referred to were removed ahead of this court case and the Council contends that it did not prevent access to Orwell Country Park."

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