PROPOSALS to reopen Highcliffe's zig-zag path will cost the council an extra £239,500 - and a decision will be made on allocating the funds next week.

After months of campaigning and several passionate debates, a decision finally looks set to be made on whether the coastal walkway will be repair.

If approved, a provisional completion for the reconstruction is expected before Easter 2019.

The path has been closed since March for safety reasons and in August Christchurch Borough Council's community committee voted not to proceed with repair works, with the cost estimate escalating to £1.2m.

However, following a significant backlash from residents, which included a 3,000-signature petition, a task and finish group was set up to consider all available options.

Following a number of meetings in recent weeks, the group are unanimously recommending to full council, which meets next Tuesday, that additional funds be agreed for the reconstruction of the zig-zag path.

Cllr Vicki Hallam, chair of Christchurch Borough Council's task and finish group, said: “I am pleased that we have been able to review the original specification and propose a solution that will cost less.

"If full council give the go ahead we will tender the work as soon as possible to test that the estimates are robust. Work is planned to commence in the autumn of this year with completion before Easter 2019.

“The task and finish group would like to thanks residents, officers and AECOM for working together to propose retention of this popular path.”

Commissioned consulting engineers AECOM have refined the design and specification of the work to deliver a proposal which meets an overall budget of just under £900,000.

The recommendation to full council is that additional funding of £239,500 is set aside to allow the path to be rebuilt. The total budget now being requested is £884,500 rather than the original estimate of £1,250,000. This includes significant contingencies given the nature of the work involved at the cliff.

After a more detailed assessment of the required works, the indicative order of cost has reduced by between £300,000 and £355,000, with the overall cost for the works now estimated between £746,500 and £801,500.

The recommendation states the additional funding of £239,500 includes two contingencies totalling £183,000 - £83,000 for AECOM and £100,000 for Christchurch Borough Council - which if not used will be returned to reserves.

If approved, the task and finish group will continue to meet until the footpath repairs are complete.

Bob Hutchings, who has led the campaign to reopen the zig-zag path, said: "I'm very pleased with the recommendation that is going to full council.

"The task and finish group have worked very hard and allowed us to work with them throughout this process.

"I'm particularly pleased by the part of the recommendation which says officers tender the work to open the path "at the earliest opportunity". We have been without the path for one season already and it needs to reopen as soon as possible."

The report to full council says the replacement of the path is a significant civil engineering project, which comes with a high level of uncertainty and risk relating to cost.

It adds: "The replacement of the path presents significant risk in relation to additional and unforeseen costs.

"The inclusion of adequate contingency allowances would allow the project to proceed if compensation events occur during the construction phase without the need to seek additional funds from committee.

"Recent cliff falls evidence that the construction project will be undertaken on an inherently unstable location and problems during construction cannot be ruled out."