TWO councils are set to go head to head over a public footpath in Hadleigh in a battle set to cost thousands of pounds.
The path, between the Crown pub, in London Road, and the library, in the High Street, has been in public use for more than 70 years.
County councillors recently formally declared the path a public right of way, effectively blocking Castle Point Council plans to divert it and use the strip of land as part of its £60million Hadleigh masterplan.
The borough council has now decided the land where the footpath runs is so important to its strategic plans it justified the expense of an appeal to Whitehall to overturn the ruling.
A Government inspector will preside over a public inquiry next week to consider whether to uphold the public right of way – agreed by County Hall after residents proved the path had been in use since 1940.
Campaigners want as many local people as possible to show up for the inquiry to show the the strength of feeling in the community. Roy Brackin, 80, of Solby’s Lane, Hadleigh, said: “If justice prevails, we will win.
“I know from my own experience that access has been in use for about 70 years without any obstruction.
“I remember using it when I was about ten years old.
“We must make a real effort not to lose this pathway, by supporting the Essex County Council order at the inquiry.”
The dispute began when the path was blocked by hoardings in 2011 while work went ahead to build the new Morrisons supermarket in London Road.
Once the supermarket was open, Castle Point Council decided to leave the path closed, prompting residents to apply to County Hall for it to be officially recognised as a public right of way.
The borough council wants to sell the land to a developer to help realise its regeneration plans for the town centre. It says the site could be used for housing or businesses.
David Hurrell, of Willow Walk, Hadleigh, said: “I am disappointed it has come to this – what will probably be an expensive exercise. Essex County Council spent a great deal of time deciding it was a legitimate cause, because of all the work Roy and everyone put in.
“It’s sad Castle Point Council should be so undemocratic about this and call it in.
“I don’t know why it is being so petulant. Its behaviour is reminiscent of a spoilt child.”
The public inquiry starts at 10am on Wednesday March 19 at the Castle Point Council offices in Kiln Road, Thundersley.
Castle Point Council has budgeted to spend £3,000 on the appeal against the county council’s right of way ruling.
The council insists the spending is justified because letting the path stay open would hamper future development.
It wants to move the path to make way for a “tree-lined boulevard”.
A borough council spokesman said: “The council has evidence to suggest there was never an intention of the owners of the land to provide a right of way through the site.
“The county council’s evidence does not warrant a change to the definitive map.
“The Crown site was shown in the Hadleigh Town Centre Master Plan as a family-friendly restaurant.
“A new public accessible tree-lined boulevard route running north to south is shown to be provided through the library site some 20metres to the west.
“The path will mean the value of the land would decrease, because this will be an unnecessary and unjustified constraint on the future development of the land.”
Essex County Council was unable to say how much it was likely to cost it in legal fees defending the right of way issue.
A spokesman said: “Following evidence submitted by members of the public showing the area had been used as a right of way for 50 years, the county council concluded it was reasonable to allege the route had, in fact, become a public footpath because of this.”