‘War declared’ over Sidmouth sign wrangle

RESIDENTS accused East Devon District Council (EDDC) of “declaring war on Sidmouth” by erecting signs stating popular parkland will never be a public right of way.

Tree enthusiasts celebrating the launch of Sidmouth Arboretum were incensed to see the notifications being put up just as they came to the end of a guided walk at Knowle last Thursday.

One of the signs, which cost �76 each, lasted only 12 hours before thieves struck. A new version will be fitted with vandal-proof fixings.

Nearby householders were “appalled” and councillors said the move ‘beggared belief’.

But EDDC bosses say such notifications have been in place at Knowle ‘for years’ and older incarnations had become damaged, lost or hidden by vegetation.

Fears have been expressed for Knowle’s green areas should EDDC relocate to Honiton and developers move in.

Residents and councillors have launched bids to see the parkland safeguarded as a public right of way.

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Jackie Green, who was on the arboretum walk, said: “EDDC has declared war on Sidmouth.”

Councillor Stuart Hughes feels the public will be “forced” to go through a long-winded process to establish the land as a right of way.

“Of course EDDC is entitled to do this and at the same time alienate even more Sidmouth residents, many of whom have used the footpaths for decades,” he added.

An EDDC spokesman said signs were originally put in place to explain that public access is by permission of the council and there are currently no agreed rights of way.

He added: “With the possibility of EDDC moving out of Knowle being so topical, there has been a degree of uncertainty around the town as to the status of access to the parklands.

“To clarify the situation, it was therefore decided that any broken or missing signs should be renewed or replaced and this is why some new signs appeared.

“EDDC’s leader and chief executive have already made clear their desire to maintain significant publicly accessible open space as part of any future development.”