RESIDENTS' leaders say council estimates for the repair of the zig zag path at Highcliffe Castle are over inflated and the job can be done for less than half the cost.

A report sent to councillors ahead of next Tuesday's special council meeting says the repairs can be completed for £572,000 as opposed to the figures put forward by council officers of £1.25m.

The report, compiled by local campaigners including Bob Hutchings, Nigel Brooks and Peter Fenning says the option to drive 'king' piles into the ground "will significantly disturb the geology of the area," a site of special scientific interest.

It says there has been "no transparency about the £400,000 added to the estimate by council officers" and that other elements outlined in the schedule of works could be done much more cheaply or not at all.

The report claims most of the existing handrails can be refurbished or reused but officers have included a replacement of £104,000.

It also says the council's own headline figure of £1.25m is a "gross over-estimation."

Back in August councillors agreed not proceed with reconstruction of the path and to explore other options for accessing the beach.

The path was closed on safety grounds a few weeks earlier.

But the issue is being taken back to full council for reconsideration after six members signed a motion to get the matter debated again. They want alternative design and build tenders to be sought along with other funding options.

Around 3,000 residents signed a petition calling on the path to be repaired and reopened.

Lindsay Cass, Head of Property and Engineering at Christchurch and East Dorset Councils said

“We have met the team of residents from the Rothesay Drive area on several occasions to discuss their alternative suggestion for rebuilding the Highcliffe zig-zag path. Their suggestion is similar to one of the nine options that was considered by the council’s consultants, AECOM, who concluded it was not a viable option. We consider that their suggested approach would cause significant damage to a geological Site of Special Scientific Interest and to trees. Depending on the council decision on Tuesday, we will prepare a report on alternative options to access the beach in a safe manner.”