APPROVED plans to fill in an area currently used as a walkway in Christchurch are being contested by residents.

Proposals to enclose the brick colonnade at a section of Church Street were approved by Christchurch Borough Council's planning committee in May this year.

At the committee meeting, objections were raised over whether a public right of way had been established in the area.

This was deemed not to be the case and application was approved.

However, residents have written to Dorset County Council stating they have made use of the area for more than 30 years and applied for it to formally become a right of way.

Peter Fenning, who has organised the efforts to establish a right of way, said 25 people have all submitted evidence to support his claim.

"I have spoken to people who have used the area as a footpath since 1976 and I have used it myself since the 1980s.

"In a half hour period on a Monday morning I counted 166 people using it.

"If this does become closed off it is going to be dangerous for people using the path right up against the kerb."

The Dorset definitive map, which shows all the established paths in the county, does not list the walkway in Christchurch town centre as a public right of way.

Legally, footpaths become rights of way because the owner “dedicates” them to public use.

Additionally, the law assumes if the public uses a path without interference for some period of time – set by statute at 20 years - then the owner had intended to dedicate it as a right of way.

A Dorset County Council spokesperson said: “At the moment the section proposed to be closed is not a recorded right of way nor has it yet been determined that it is part of the adjacent ‘public’ highway.

“We have received an application to add the route to the Definitive Map as a footpath and this has been prioritised in light of the planning application.

"However, there are several other prioritised applications in front of it and so it will be some time before we are able to start the investigation.”