A ROW has broken out over whether works to upgrade a country trail were legal or not.
Protestors say that the Meon Valley trail, which runs along an old railway track from West Meon to Wickham, has been ruined by the improvements carried out by Hampshire County Council and the South Downs National Park Authority.
Now barrister Wayne Beglan at Cornerstone has advised them that the works ‘were not permitted development as previously stated and definitely required planning permission.’
This, campaigners say, opens the way for a judicial review unless an agreement can be reached.
They met representatives of from the council and the South Downs National Park Authority in an effort to reach a suitable compromise on surface and other issues. The group has asked for a suitable dual-user surface so all user groups can enjoy the bridleway safely.
Martin Montague, from the Save Our Bridleway group, said: ‘If they had used some of the money on consultation a lot of very unpopular mistakes could have been avoided.
‘The fact that SDNP is a planning authority yet fails to obtain permission for its own work makes a mockery of the system.’
The work, which cost around £380,000, is close to completion and has seen the track widened and resurfaced with a type of shingle called scalpings, which has upset horse riders and dog walkers who say the stones injure their animals’ feet.
And it has also upset cyclists, who say it is now too bumpy to ride on, and walkers, who say it is more difficult to walk on.
However, the council said it has now made the trail more accessible to all users, including disabled people.
A protest march held last month in Wickham attracted scores of upset residents, who wanted to voice their disapproval.
Donations of nearly £3,000 were collected from the march, which Save our Bridleway used to consult Mr Beglan.
A spokesperson for Hampshire County Council said: ‘We can confirm that we met with representatives from the campaign group on June 2 and we will be responding in due course.’
A spokesperson for the South Downs National Park Authority said: ‘As the planning authority we consider any new legal opinion on development and respond accordingly, as we will with the one commissioned by this group.’