THE next step in the ongoing saga to restore the zig zag path at Highcliffe Castle is set to be taken next week.

Plans for the major project have been recommended for approval at Thursday's Christchurch Borough Council planning committee meeting.

The detailed report into the application was published almost 12 months to the day members of the community committee voted to scrap the reconstruction project.

A resident-led campaign forced a U-turn on that decision and the council is making preparations for the work to begin.

Bob Hutchins, chairman of the Rothesay Drive Residents' Association and one of the lead campaigners for reinstating the pathway, said: "As a member of the residents' group that was invited last October by the council to work with officers and councillors to progress the rebuilding of the zig zag path, I was naturally delighted to see that, at long last, the planning application is recommended for approval by the planning officer.

"Maybe now we can start moving forward."

The restructuring project of the sloped path, which runs from the beach to the castle grounds, has been allocated £884,500 of funding, with contingencies included.

Planning officer Kevin Chilvers' report to the committee says: "Given the separation distance to the nearest residential properties (which are further screened by intervening trees and soft landscaping), and the fact that most of the works are to be carried out on the cliff slope, it is considered that the proposed development would not result in any material detrimental impact on the visual amenities of the neighbouring occupants."

The council's conservation officer said: "The zig zag path leading down to the beach from the castle grounds is a significant part of the designed gardens, and although not visible from the castle, is a prominent feature from the beaches looking up towards the cliff edges.

"Presently the path is in a state of disrepair, and closed to the public as the structure is considered dangerous."

Earlier this year Mr Hutchins questioned the speed at which the project was being progressed and called on the council to accelerate the process.

If approved, the work could begin almost immediately if the council has completed the tendering process for the scheme.

Mr Hutchins added: "The council is currently seeking a contractor to build the path and we hope this can be done swiftly.

"The swallows will undoubtedly have left our shores before the first vehicle comes along the beach to work on the zig zag, but with luck those same vehicles will be long gone before the swallows return. We all look forward to that time."