HADLEIGH residents have told a Government inspector why they want a cut-through footpath in the town to stay open.

They were giving evidence as a public inquiry opened at Castle Point Council’s Thundersley offices yesterday.

Inspector Peter Millman has been called in to hear Castle Point Council’s appeal against an Essex County Council decision safeguarding the short path. It runs between the disused Crown pub and the library, linking London Road and the High Street.

Thousands of pounds of public money is being spent on the dispute, with both councils determined not to give ground.

Residents insist the path has been in regular use by the public for 70 years and must stay open.

Eight of them gave evidence in support of their case on the inquiry’s opening day.

Essex County Council recently declared the route a public right of way, after resident Roy Brackin, of Solbys Lane, Hadleigh, applied for official recognition.

Castle Point Council bitterly opposes the move, insisting the narrow strip of land is crucial to its £60million Hadleigh masterplan regeneration plans.

The inspector opened the inquiry by explaining Essex County Council would need to prove the path had been in uninterrupted public use for the past 20 years.

One of the first to give evidence was Colin Blackall, of Highfield Avenue, Thundersley, who said he and his wife used the footpath two or three times a week.

He told the inspector: “My wife was born in 1937 and she was accustomed to using the route in her early days. The path is an imperative link between two pedestrian crossings.”

Jacqueline Loh, of Homestead Way, Hadleigh, told the inquiry: “When I went to school in Southend, I used the walkthrough every day to get to the bus stop.

“I also use it regularly nowand I have never been told I am not permitted to use it, or not been given permission to use it.”

The dispute began when the path was blocked off in 2011, as work began on a Morrisons supermarket.

Residents expected it to reopen after the store was built, but Castle Point Council decided to keep it closed, leading to Mr Brackin’s application to the county council.

Castle Point Council says keeping the path would hinder future development of the area and make adjoining land less valuable.

It wants to move the path so it can create “a tree-lined boulevard”.

Castle Point Council’s barrister, Daniel Steadman Jones, argued to the inquiry it was possible the landowners only originally intended the path to be used by a small group, such as pub customers, not the general public.

He said County Hall should not have made the right of way order purely on the strength of evidence from people who used it in the past.

However, LesleyWilliams, who is responsible for looking into rights of way claims for the county council, said there was no evidence the landowner ever intended it not to be open to the public.

The inquiry continues today, when it is expected to be closed, with Mr Millman making a ruling at a later date.