THE fate of a planned £400,000 bridleway linking Bilton and Ripley will be decided by a public inquiry next week.
At the two-day hearing, beginning on Wednesday, Harrogate Council will try to persuade a Government-appointed inspector to grant permission for the scheme, which is being opposed by landowners living close to the planned path.
Coun Michael Harrison, cabinet member for the environment, said: “If successful, the public inquiry would give us the legal right to cross the land as a bridleway and pave the way to construct the project.
“It would open a traffic-free route for walkers, cyclists and horse-riders from the urban part of Harrogate into lower Nidderdale, which could be used for leisure and tourism and potentially to get to work and school.”
He said that if the inspector declined to grant the bridleway creation order, the only way for the scheme to go ahead would be via a permissive route. “Thereby we would need all the relevant landowners to give us permission to do that and we wouldn’t expect to get that,” Coun Harrison said.
“But we think the case is a good one and we are hopeful of a successful outcome.”
Funding for the project was awarded following a TV vote in 2007 and it was originally set to open in summer 2010, but organisers have hit a series of stumbling blocks.
The most significant has seen Harrogate Council, which is responsible for the scheme, unable to agree terms with affected landowners. Nidd Parish Council also registered its opposition to the initiative.
If approved at public inquiry, major building work would commence next year. Matt Hemsley transport charity Sustrans said: “Although the inquiry should only last a couple of days, we can’t guarantee when we’d know the result from the planning inspector.
“Therefore, it’s likely we’d miss the opportunity to start major works in 2011.
“A lot of preparatory work would take place this summer, but the full route development would almost certainly be put back until 2012. All of our Connect2 projects have to be completed by March 2013.”
The inquiry takes place at Harrogate Council’s offices at Crescent Gardens from Wednesday, February 16 to Thursday, February 17, starting at 10am.
l See letters, Page 6.