CHRISTCHURCH councillors have unanimously pledged extra money to repair and reopen the Highcliffe zig zag path.

Members discussed the issue following a report to the full council meeting on Tuesday night.

Campaigners were out in force for the meeting, which saw chairman of the Rothesay Drive Residents Association, Bob Hutchings, as well as other supporters ask a series of questions of the council about the path.

And members heard Martin Stewart, managing director of Stewarts Garden Centre, has offered to manage the planting on the development, which could reduce costs by a further £20,000.

The coastal path has been closed for nearly a year after councillors on the community committee marginally voted not to fund the rising costs of the project last summer.

At the time they were told the cost of repairs could exceed £1.2m.

However, after a high profile campaign, this decision was put into doubt by a full council vote, which led to the establishment of a task and finish group to devise cheaper solutions.

The report submitted ahead of Tuesday's meeting recommended allocating an extra £239,500 to the scheme. The total budget now allocated is £884,500.

Members were told officers had been cautious with their estimates, and in fact, the cost may prove to be even lower than this.

Recommending the scheme for approval, Cllr Vicki Hallam said: "It has been a complex and time consuming process, however with persistence and focus the outcome is positive.

"We have worked together with a common goal. This path is the gateway between Highcliffe Castle and the beach. We must ensure this is open to everyone so we can take pleasure in our assets."

Seconding the proposal, Cllr Claire Bath added: "Let us get a move on, tender and reopen this path at the earliest opportunity."

Cllr Colin Bungey did raise concerns about cliff stability and drainage and the possibility of rising costs, with Cllr Ray Nottage saying he would support the next stage despite "considerable trepidation".

Cllr Margaret Phipps said: "This has not been easy. We have managed to achieve a reduction in costs and make this affordable for this council.

"I appreciate that concerns have been raised. But the professionals have said this can be done.

"We must go out to tender and see what they say."

If the tender process is successful, work is likely to start in the autumn and could be finished by Easter 2019.