DOG walkers are furious after a popular footpath open since the 1960s has been blocked off.

Residents want to know why the quarter-mile track across Basildon Golf Course has been fenced off.

The popular path runs from behind gardens in Curlew Crescent, Basildon, to Kingswood recreation ground through part of the course.

Dog walker Jan Rippon, 62, said: "For 26 years I have used this track and walked along the edge of the golf course without problems with golfers or the council.

"All of a sudden it is fenced off. It seems the bosses want to deny us access to a lovely green space in this part of the town."

Ron Maden, director of Jack Barker Ltd, which recently secured a 99-year lease to run the course from Basildon Council, would only say there was no access when the firm took over the lease and it was not a footpath.

However Geoff Williams, Basildon's Lib Dem group leader, said: "This is a route which has been used by hundreds of walkers, dog walkers and families since the Sixties.

"It is a pleasant and safe route into the recreation ground which otherwise involves walking along often busy roads.

"Although there is no legal right of way, there are no grounds to stop it as the track is between back gardens and trees and avoids the actual course."

Mr Williams is part of a campaign group which has launched a legal challenge of Jack Barker's £1million revamp of the course, which includes the controversial plan to use hundreds of thousands of tonnes of building spoil to reshape the course. He also said an application for right of way status was put in to Essex County Council in 2006 and walkers were pressing for a decision to be made.

Basildon Council spokesman Ray McKay said: "Since the new lease was signed, it is up to the new operator to decide on questions of safe access for walkers on to the site."

Sharon Asplin, county council spokesman, said: "Applications have been received to add a footpath for the area concerned, supported by 20 witness evidence forms."