THE occupier of Hampton Mill has set out the parameters which will see unfettered access restored to public paths in the area.

Frances Payne, who lives in Hampton Mill, acknowledges being responsible for denying access by padlocking a gate and putting up barbed wire, fencing and notices to keep out.

The area going past her home is legitimately shut with approval from Worcestershire County Council until June 4.

Mrs Payne had said she wanted an alternative route to be found due to “constant” problems such as people taking illegal substances, assault, theft and vandalism but now acknowledges “things have calmed down and people are starting to behave themselves”.

She says she still needs to “consider my safety first” before confirming the path will reopen but, subject to “due process” that “it is on track for June 4”.

Mrs Payne says paths on the other side of the mill are not currently blocked but that she is obtaining legal advice after the county council “cut down fencing that was nowhere near the footpath(s) that they had no right to cut down”, checking her position with regard to her right to temporarily close these paths for fixed periods.

The key issue is over the installation of kissing gates – a hinged gate that swings between two enclosed shutting posts – or stiles that would enable Mrs Payne to have livestock on her land.

“I have put in a formal complaint over them not responded to the request to put in gates,” she said.

“I have done everything off my own back but if I put up a style, they (the county council) will probably rip it down because it won’t be to their specifications.

“I have been told – and a friend of mine has had a similar warning – not to do it. We have asked them provide the gates and I will put them in but they haven’t done that.

“It would not stop access but it would stop bicycles, motorbikes and it would mean I could stock my land with sheep. They have no right to prevent that but I can’t do that because there are no gates.

“It is getting beyond the pale. There was even a motorbike running through there on Monday night.”

“I am mid-battle with the council on that. I have applied twice to put up gates and styles to ensure my safety and make it possible for the path to stay open.”

New Worcestershire County councillor Peter Griffiths expects "fairly swift" action from officers over access to footpaths at Hampton Mill but called for "time and space to deal with it" from the public.

Cllr Griffiths, who was sworn in this week, understands “police are down there on a regular basis” on the back of “pretty serious” allegations which he has been presented with “certain evidence” of.

“I have said to the leader of the council that I will be looking for a robust response on the issue," he said.

“There does not seem to be any doubt that it is a public right of way and therefore no one has the right to block it.

“The county council has its legal responsibilities to deal with that, I am sure they are full aware of the exact situation and taking whatever steps they are able to.

“I have had lots of people getting in touch, it is causing a lot of anger locally and in some cases a certain amount of hysteria.

"There have been all sorts of allegations that it would not be right for me to comment on because I don’t know whether they are fact or fiction but I understand there have been breaches of the peace down there.

“This is a matter that has to be sorted out, primarily by the people responsible for the public footpath."

Asked what his message would be to frustrated residents, Cllr Griffiths replied: “Please don’t take any form of vigilante action. It will only exacerbate what is already a delicate situation.

“Please allow the authorities the time and space to deal with it as they should.”

On whether he anticipates a quick resolution, Cllr Griffiths said: “I would anticipate fairly swift action from the county council but there are two sides to every argument and while one side could act quickly, the other side could drag it out so it is impossible to say.

“As far as I know this has been rumbling on for a while now. It is very unfortunate that access to a well-known and loved beauty spot is being spoiled by this.”

Cllr Griffiths added he would not see it is a appropriate to liaise with Mrs Payne directly before establishing the legal facts but said he “might consider” doing so as and when the facts present themselves.

“There is a clear, legal right of way and the exact facts around that have to be established," he said.

“What I can do is make sure the county council officers give it their fullest and urgent attention."

A spokesperson for Worcestershire County Council confirmed the authorised closure of one section of the footpath.

“These works are due to be completed before the notice of closure has expired on 4 June 2021 and, once completed, the footpath will reopen,” they said.

Mrs Payne’s claims over the removal of fencing and her complaint over requests for gates have yet to be addressed by the county council.