Wrangle over blocked pathway

The public footpath at Toddington Lane in Haigh. John Burns, Gordon Bibby, Coun Bob Brierley and John Seddon with the completed evidence of use forms supplied by Wigan Council
The public footpath at Toddington Lane in Haigh. John Burns, Gordon Bibby, Coun Bob Brierley and John Seddon with the completed evidence of use forms supplied by Wigan Council

ACTIVISTS are fighting to legalise an ancient Wigan right of way.

They have been collecting statements from villagers who have used the “roof of Wigan” route through Haigh skirting a farm yard for generations.

They are now calling on the council to progress the application to have it instated on the definitive footpath map for the borough, which needs to become the subject of a public inquiry before it can be completed.

Organisers claim that the route at the top of the village off Toddington Lane - which connects two existing legal footpaths - was closed on the orders of Defra during the foot and mouth crisis in 2001 because it passes by a still operational cattle farm.

But when the restrictions were eventually lifted by order of the government, the right of way itself remain blocked off, with a rambler’s stile apparently having been swapped during the intervening period for an “often locked” five bar gate.

They say that the only way to guarantee the public a right of way in the future is to have the 50 yard-plus long route, which links footpaths Haigh No. 22 to Aspull No. two, legally adopted into Wigan’s footpaths schedule, which would then mean to obstruct it would become a civil offence.

Pensioner John Burns of Aspull has used the right of way regularly, from being a small boy, for more than 60 years, right up to its closure under the Foot and Mouth emergency.

And the battle to have it officially adopted is now being supported by independent Hindley Green Coun Bob Brierley.

He insists that an alternative route across a field nearby, which has been used to connect the two paths since the closure, isn’t suitable under foot for those who may be unsteady on their feet who fancy a country walk on a sunny winter weekend

He is also angry about the length of time it is taking the council to bring the public inquiry process forward to examine the path application.

He wants residents who have used the right of way and want to see it made permanent, to write to him so that their evidence can become part of any subsequent public inquiry bundle.

Mr Burns, 75, acknowledges that the town hall’s legal department has a backlog of such public footpath applications.

But believes that residents in Haigh and Aspull have now “waited long enough” to have the strength of their application to make the right of way into an official foot path tested.

He has already been in touch with the Local Government Ombudsman and the Secretary of State about the delays.

He said: “The right of way was closed during the foot and mouth crisis and was just never re-opened again.

“It isn’t on any definitive map as a footpath but it has been used as a right of way by the people around here for well over 70 years that I know of and according to some people, a heck of lot longer than that.

“It has now been blocked off by a gate with a lock on by a landowner.”

When Mr Burns approached the council a decade ago with 20 official statements from former users about re-opening the right of way he was warned there would be a delay in bringing it forward because of the number of footpath applications already in the system.

But he now believes that the council have had long enough to progress the legal application up to and including the stage of calling a public inquiry.

He said: “I was told by the council at the time that they do two applications year, so I knew there would be a delay. But I am now told that they have only done eight of them in the past 10 years which just isn’t good enough and at this rate I’m not going to be still around when this is finally sorted out.”

Coun Brierley today accused the Aspull, New Springs, Whelley ward councillor John Hilton of letting down residents by failing to support the campaign.

But Coun Hilton defended the diversionary route as “totally suitable” and claimed Coun Brierley was attempting to create a “storm in a tea cup” for political gain.

He said: “I’m told Coun Brierley has land access issues of his own and perhaps he should sort them out first before throwing his weight around in my ward.”