The Duke, the bike ban and the taxman

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In this instance we’re publishing Cycling UK’s entire press release verbatim. Read on, and then feel free to head to the comments!

Cycling UK is calling into question the tax exemptions the Duke of Devonshire benefits from, supposedly in return for allowing public access to his estate while banning cyclists from most of the 30,000-acre Bolton Abbey estate on the western edge of the Yorkshire Dales, UK.

The Duke of Devonshire has an estimated net worth of £800million and in addition to owning the 30,000-acre Bolton Abbey estate, the family are also custodians of Chatsworth House, which has been closed due to the COVID pandemic but is due to reopen next month.

With the Bank Holiday weekend approaching, visitors will flock to the grounds of stately homes but those on bikes won’t be welcomed at the sprawling estate in the Yorkshire Dales. That’s because attempts have been stepped up to prevent cyclists using the Wooden Bridge on the estate leading to a popular cycling café, despite the landowner receiving generous tax relief for supposedly welcoming visitors onto the land

Under terms of the tax relief the Duke of Devonshire receives, the estate must provide access to a series of public roads and permissive footpaths and bridleways crossing the land. This access and its public benefit is being denied to many people, including those wanting to cycle, which the cycling charity says should cause HMRC to investigate the estate’s claims for tax exemption.

Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK head of campaigns said: “Cycling UK looked into this matter a little closer, we found we were really only scratching the surface and that the Devonshire Estate had been failing to provide access to cyclists to estate land for years.

“This is one of the most beautiful landscapes in Yorkshire and it’s easy to see why the estate attracts some 400,000 visitors a year. Cyclists should be able to enjoy the special qualities of our National Parks, instead they are being faced by security guards more appropriately employed outside of nightclubs.”

Cycling UK has written to HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs) urging them to investigate the Devonshire Estate’s failure to deliver reasonable public access for cyclists and horse riders, predating the recent closure of the bridge on the Bolton Abbey Estate.

Members of the cycling charity were alarmed by the Estate’s decision in March to close access to the bridge which has been used for decades by cyclists to cross the river from the minor road from Storiths to visit the Cavendish Pavilion tea-room. The path was not only blocked but security guards have been employed to prevent riders from crossing the bridge to sup a coffee.

Sharon Mcauley from Ilkley had been a visitor to the estate with her family for many years and felt cyclists were being unfairly singled out: She said: “I have used this route for over 20 years without problems and cannot understand the recent change. I live locally and feel most aggrieved at this loss of a route. We have usually stopped for a coffee at the Cavendish so contribute towards the estate.”.

Alistair Preston, a company director from Leeds was also caught out by the change. He explained: “As a result of this closure we missed Bolton Abbey from our recent ride itinerary. Our group of four people did not get a coffee and a cake at the Cavendish Pavilion, and they lost out on £20-£30 from us alone.

“We would not mind walking with the bikes from the gate to the cafe – it’s only 50 yards.”

Mr Dollimore said:

“The estate includes around 80 miles of open moorland, crossed with paths and bridleways suitable for horse riding and cycling, over which there is already an extensive right of access on foot under the Countryside Right of Way Act. We’re not asking for complete unrestricted access to thousands of acres of moorlands – despite the fact that this is exactly what CROW access offers for walkers – but at the moment the Estate is claiming a tax exemption by undertaking to allow additional public access, when in reality the access it’s allowing is largely that which walkers are already legally entitled to anyway, which brings into question the justification for the tax exemption.”

Landowners of heritage property and other assets such as works of art can receive what is known as a conditional exemption from inheritance tax on that property or assets if they make it available and if it is judged to meet criteria, for example, comprising land of outstanding natural beauty and spectacular views.

As part of their own conditionally exempt agreement, the Estate has agreed to provide: “Public access available all year on the public roads and permissive footpaths and bridleways.”

After Cycling UK approached the Estate about its concerns, it received a statement that its policy remained to continue the tradition of “allowing public access wherever possible provided this does not conflict with the conservation objectives and reasonable agricultural, forestry and game management requirements” but no further rationale for the refusal of access to cyclists has been provided.

In the letter to HMRC, Cycling UK asks the Revenue to investigate whether:

  • The Estate is in breach of the conditional exemption undertaking by closing the permissive path over Wooden Bridge, a key constituent of the identified permissive route network in their undertaking.
  • The Estate has failed, in the wider context, to deliver reasonable access for the public (including both able bodied and disabled cyclists), in accordance with the conditional exemption undertaking.
  • It has given sufficient regard to the duty to promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the National Park by the public – specifically in the lack of access for cyclists and horse riders to both permissive paths and the wider estate, including vehicular moorland access tracks.
  • In the development and administration of conditional undertaking agreements at Bolton Abbey Estates, HMRC as a public authority has fully considered and given sufficient regard to, the Public Sector Equality Duty – specifically in the lack of access for disabled cyclists, horse riders and canoeists to both permissive paths and the wider estate, including vehicular moorland access tracks.

A full copy of the letter can be viewed on the Cycling UK website.

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Comments (39)

    Just ride there anyway. Who cares.

    Whenever I’m at Bolton Abbey on a weekend morning, half the cafe clientele seem to be roadies. . Obviously they don’t need the custom after all. There’s always been a gate on the bridge so it’s not like they’re blatting over it at full gas.

    From a MTB point of view, if the estate spent as much effort looking after the BWs immediately around Bolton Abbey as it does putting up ‘no cycling’ signs, we’d all be in a better position.

    It is the Duke of Devonshire, who has history of keeping people off of his land.
    My personal bug is the River Derwent through his land in Derbyshire. He does not allow any canoes/watercraft to pass through his land, even if accessed from public land. The Rangers are sent out immediately a canoe/kayak is spotted, and ordered off the land, sometimes forcibly.
    That his forebears had to concede that walkers can be allowed on his land after the mass trespass to Kinder Scout in the 30’s, seems to have no effect on him. A gentle approach from the President of the British Canoeing has had no effect. I have called for a mass trespass on the Derwent many times.
    The same should be done at Bolton Abbey, a few hundred cyclists should assemble somewhere else, cycle to the Estate, and ride, responsibly, on the tracks that are suitable for bikes.
    If anyone could point me to any tax benefits/subsidies they receive for Chatsworth, then that would be great, and I’d be sending a similar letter to try to get his attitude changed.

    The sign on the gate has “Covid-19” at the bottom. Does this imply that once things open again in June this restriction will be removed?

    Over the past year they appear to have systematically closed off the majority of places where people could park for free near the estate and under the excuse of covid are trying to charge for even pedestrian access to the footpaths (not even just the permissive ones) on the estate.

    I’m pleased to see Cycling UK including access for canoeists in their request.

    Which ones, Gribs? The main path on the east bank is the Dales Way, so I can’t see that getting anywhere.

    No cycling signs on a Landover track in the middle of nowhere! How do people in England put up with this nonsense

    When I lived in Skipton, the local door to door riding was always pish poor, mainly because of the Duke of Chumpington’s, sorry, Devonshire’s desire to keep people off his land.

    Mass trespass is the only answer to this, as it was at Kinder Scout in 1932.

    The own the land up at Langbar and have placed large stones everywhere to stop parking. They’ve ploughed over one parking spot and blocked the other. Any family wanting to walk up Beamsley Beacon have now got nowhere to park.

    The gate thing is ridiculous especially given the amount of cyclists who use it.
    The coffee and food along at Abbey Tea rooms is way better anyway

    They seem to have been getting worse for years at Bolton Abbey with car park charges going through the roof, the previous free car access at quiet times removed, restrictions on bike access increased and basically every entrance now staffed and charged. It’s utter greed, nothing more or less.

    Last time I went on my bike they were making you dismount around the Pavilion and over the bridge due to Covid so it seems they’ve gone one step further. I have many fond memories as a kid of cycling over after school with my mates then having a swim. Seems Scrooge wants to deny the current generation.

    The duke won’t want peasants on his land unless they give him money. The tax relief will be one of many that will be exploited to the letter of the regulation and not the spirit

    Different sports like paddlesports, cycling, BMC and Ramblers need to work together in concert to bring about these changes. The Land Reform (Scotland) Act is an excellent example of diverse interests working together for equal rights for all.

    Yet another reason I’d introduce all these barstewards to sharp part of Madame Guillotine.
    Land I would point out that was stolen from the populous and given under cronyism of the past.
    Vive la Revolution.

    Martinhuutch, They claim on their website you need a £10 ticket as a pedestrian to enter the estate. I’ve walked in without buying one a few times over lockdown parking at Barden Bridge and had no bother from estate staff, but had a couple of discussions with North Yorkshire police who were trying to enforce guidance as if it were law.

    simonfbarnes was right wasn’t he.

    These feudal throw backs from the past will never change unless we make them.

    @gribs Imagine paying your tenner in advance, parking up then realising you’re about 100 yards from the start of a public footpath that goes right through and along the Wharfe. Disgraceful. Can’t even understand the need to be so misleading, given that most people planning a day out there will arrive in a car.

    My parents camped at the caravan site on the estate last autumn were told they couldn’t access the paths at Barden Bridge with buying a ticket, despite camping legally on estate land. The above gate over the bridge has been locked since the end of lockdown 1. The alternative puts you out on a really fast section A59 (which I find frankly terrifying!). Our neighbour has been cycling to Cavendish for literally decades and even has has abandoned it for the Abbey Tea Rooms and he doesn’t even use the bridge. Lol. The signs, even for walkers, above Embsay, are totally OTT. They could learn a lot from the Swinton estate.

    The full letter is excellent 🙂

    “The Cavendish family descends from Sir John Cavendish, who took his name from the village of Cavendish, Suffolk, where he held an estate in the 14th century. He served as Chief Justice of the King’s Bench from 1372 to 1381, and was killed in the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381.”

    Careful now.

    You can almost see someone attempting to justify why us evil cyclist should be banned (we create small ruts that detract from the aesthetic beauty of his landrover ruts), but how could you even start to claim a canoe damager the place (especially when accessing the water from else where)? Its not like cyclist are asking to ride down his mahogany stair cases. Mass trespas by people being paid by HMRC to be on furlough may add a nice twist.

    @Mark Alker Ah the old “‘cos Covid”… “it’s for your own good” defence

    “My parents camped at the caravan site on the estate last autumn were told they couldn’t access the paths at Barden Bridge with buying a ticket”

    It may be permissive at that point, but it is part of the Dales Way long distance path. Local ROW team should be examining whether nationally important routes like this need to be upgraded to prevent abuses such as this. Even if the Covid precaution were justified (it isn’t at this point), there is not going to be a flood of visitors entering at this point – there are half a dozen parking places at the bridge.

    Lift bike over gate & ride across the perfectly adequate track. Also HMRC should make the tw@ pay full taxes, tax dodging shyster. Open Access for all.

    A section of tarmac estate road through the Waddesdon estate, Buckinghamshire (owned by Lord Rothschild) was recently closed to cyclists after many years of use. The permissive bridleway signs on the Penn estate, also in Buckinghamshire (owned by Lord Howe) have recently been replaced with “No Cycling” signs. There seems to be a theme here…..

    In certain cases (very low water) canoes can be a problem for fish spawning but most people will know and avoid.
    The real reason is simply a certain type of fishermen dont like to share with anyone else.

    Poopscoop April 29, 2021 at 8:55 pm
    simonfbarnes was right wasn’t he.

    These feudal throw backs from the past will never change unless we make them.

    Yes he was!

    There’s good mtb routes on Barden Fell and Beamsley Beacon which strava will tell you get ridden a lot, less so on Simon’s Seat though there’s potential. You occasionally get stopped by unfriendly gamekeepers which reduces the enjoyment for many. I factor it in as part of the experience. These hills will be there after I’m gone (with more plants and wildlife if the grouse shooting is stopped).

    Just ridiculous though about ripping off walkers and turning back folks wheeling road bikes, and particularly a shame is that this is what a lot of people coming out of Bradford and Leeds – which more and more people have over the last year which is great – see of the country which their taxes subsidise, and it’s not welcoming.

    Not just bikes but dogs banned from lots of their ‘public’ paths. This is touted as being in the interests of conservation but we know it’s just a breeding program to ensure there’s plenty of birds to shoot. Needs changing over to truly open access land as they aren’t doing us, the public, any favours.

    The history of private ownership of land and the notion of tresspass, is one solely of theft, exploitation, and protectionism. This needs a mass tresspass by all user groups. Good on Cycling UK for making a good case, but it’s still ridiculous that he gets money in the form of tax relief for allowing access to land we should have the permanent right to access.

    Thats a very clean and new looking gate and fence. I wonder who paid for it ?, taxpayer perhaps.
    I think someone should paint it though. Maybe late at night.

    England desperately needs significant land reform. Are land owners in Scotland given tax breaks for access?

    I notice the Dales Divide event this weekend was actually routed over the bridge, and supposedly has a checkpoint at the Cavendish Pavilion. Dotwatcher shows riders diverting along the road instead…

    Can you walk over the said bridge? With out a bike?

    stopping people from crossing the bridge riding their bikes is one thing, but the article reads that the cyclists were stopped from crossing the bridge (by bouncers?) because they were with their bikes, and or wearing cycling attire?

    is that legal?

    sounds like a very tenuous excuse for tax relief that he and many other land owners should be relieved of.

    It is no wonder that average public Joe, rails against authority is it? A lot of problems in our country stem from complete imbecilic leadership and authority, leading people to revolt against everything, including normal society rules and the local Police etc. Landowners who act in this way should be held accountable for their disregard of fellow countrymen. Many of whom, recently have given their all to the country. ie, NHS, Police, Fire, Ambulance, Forces, Shopkeepers, Mums at home, Fathers made redundant, the list is endless.

    “Can you walk over the said bridge? With out a bike?”

    Yes, from the other side, by buying a ticket to access the riverside paths. In theory you can also do it without buying a ticket (though people have had various experiences of that in the last year) by accessing via one of the riverside paths up or downstreet. No-one cycles down those paths (they are too busy), but instead that road behind the photographer is a busy cycle route, and cyclists then used to go through the foot gate (which is just out of shot on the left of this picture – this main large gate has always been locked) which has since been removed and battoned off.

    Apparently BBC local news were there last weekend interviewing cyclists, but I dont know the fall out of it. Also, I am not sure, apart from the Dales Devide, how many still go that way because of this. The road continues up a very steep climb (ok fine, thats life) and then spits you out on a very fast A road, which when you could avoid by going over the debated bridge (we often walked our bikes over it) and through the estate tarmaced road.

    Quite a decent piece on it on Look North a few days back, complete with pictures of ebikers hoicking their bikes over the gate in full view of the ‘bouncers’. The Estate claims that when coronavirus restrictions are relaxed, access will be restored. Given that there are currently no restrictions on outdoor eating/drinking and exercise, not sure what rule they think letting a few cyclists and pedestrians cross a bridge will breach.

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