A PUBLIC inquiry is to be held in the spring to settle once and for all a dispute over whether a centuries-old walkway in Wellington really is a public footpath.

An inspector from the Government’s Planning Inspectorate will hear evidence on both sides of the argument at a session to be held in Wellington Football Club on Tuesday, May 14.

Town councillors have agreed to present any evidence they have to support the footpath’s inclusion on the official definitive map of public rights of way held by Somerset Council.

Councillors expressed a strong wish to have the path reopened for public use once again.

The disputed route runs for 230 feet from Millstream Gardens to Burchills Hill and was fenced off about 20 years ago by a neighbour.

Somerset and town Cllr Andrew Govier said the footpath had been used for more than 100 years until somebody bought a nearby property and wanted to stop people walking past their home.

He said: “Everybody assumed it was a public right of way, but then all of a sudden fencing was put up around it with the land having been purchased for £1 and the access was cut off.”

Cllr Govier said it had been an ‘incredibly long-winded’ process going back about 15 to 20 years to reach the stage of now having a public inquiry.

He said many years ago a then-county council committee agreed that there was sufficient evidence of the path’s use for it to be added to the definitive map.

However, a formal decision on the matter was needed from the Secretary of State so the papers were forwarded to the relevant Government Department for consideration.

Cllr Govier said the paperwork then seemed to have sat for several years in the in-tray on a Minister’s desk with nothing happening until now.

He said the path when it was previously in use had allowed pedestrians to avoid having to brave heavy traffic along Milverton Road on a dangerous corner which lacked a pavement.

Former Wellington mayor Cllr Janet Lloyd said: “I have been on the town council for 17 years and this came up when I was first on here.

“This has just got lost in the mists of time.”

Another past-mayor, Cllr Mark Lithgow, said: “I would support this inquiry and bring it back as a proper footpath.”

Cllr Justin Cole, one of the newest members of the council, said he ‘wholeheartedly supported’ the inquiry but also believed the footpath, which varied between 15 and 60 feet wide, might be large enough for it to become designated as a bridleway.

But Cllr Govier quipped: “It has taken 15 years to get a public inquiry for a footpath, it could be another 15 before we could get it to become a bridle path.”

The inquiry is being held under Section 53 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and can also be followed online.

Anybody wanting to join virtually should register their interest with Somerset Council by April 29.