Dispute over blocked footpath rumbles on

A footpath near the area of the dispute
A footpath near the area of the dispute

Residents’ frustration with Wigan Council over a long-running dispute about a blocked-off public footpath has finally boiled over.

People living in Leigh close to a popular dog-walking track which has been gated off by several landowners have blasted the town hall for not managing to re-open the route after two years of campaigning.

This should definitely have been sorted by now. For whatever reason it just comes up against a brick wall

Derek Powell

Residents have described the delays in getting the path, which runs from the Sandy Pool Farm at the end of Alderley Lane to the East Lancs Road open for use once more, as “diabolical”.

However, the council has defended its handling of the matter and a leading rights of way organisation which has also got involved has also praised the local authority for its work on what it calls a complex and technical legal issue.

The Peak and Northern Footpaths Society, which is submitting an application to get the path re-opened, says it is currently amassing new evidence in the light of landowners’ objections.

Despite this, some people in the area are struggling to contain their fury at the slow pace of progress.

Derek Powell, of Oakhead, said: “It’s just diabolical. To me the laws of obstruction are straightforward: you can’t divert a public footpath unless you do the necessary paperwork. This should definitely have been sorted by now. For whatever reason it just comes up against a brick wall.

“Wigan Council is not talking to us, they just won’t speak to the community.

“I really don’t understand after almost two years why it’s just gone on and on.”

However, Peak and Northern says the issue is progressing, with only part of the route still in dispute.

The society’s courts and inquiries officer Terry Norris said: “This case is about whether the path has been used as of right for 20 years for local residents walking their dogs and so on.

“It’s about access by right, assuming you have a right to use it, and not getting to it by force or stealth.

“It’s certainly been blocked off by landowners at the farms and there’s no access at present. That’s why the case is being brought. We have to make an application to the council supported by evidence statements.

“The landowners don’t accept these claims. One of the farm owners feels very strongly it shouldn’t be a public right of way.

“They’ve now accepted the claim in part but Wigan Council has given me time to put in extra statements relating to the section going down to the East Lancs Road.

“I think the council has dealt with this very fairly and openly. These cases can get very technical.”

Wigan Council also defended its role in the dispute over the footpath and its decision to recently install the dog-fouling signs around Hooten Lane.

Mark Tilley, assistant director for infrastructure and regulatory services, said: “Wigan Council is working with the respective landowners and their legal representatives to resolve the issues over the partial obstruction of the public footpath.

“We have also received a formal application to have a footpath along the alignment of the former access track designated as a public footpath, with the process ongoing.”