Path to remain open

Chris Scaife at the Black Path
Chris Scaife at the Black Path

COUNCILLORS have voted unanimously in favour of keeping a path alongside allotments where pigeons were slaughtered open.

Hartlepool Borough Council had been consulting on proposals to permanently close a route known locally as the Black Path because of “criminal activity”.

The path borders the southern end of Grayfields Recreation Ground and the northern end of Chester Road Allotments, and runs from Thornhill Gardens to Jesmond Gardens.

But despite calls from the Chester Road Allotment Association to close it, planning committee members voted in favour of keeping it open because there wasn’t enough evidence to close it.

Plot holders had complained about persistent anti-social behaviour and in March, the Hartlepool Mail reported how pigeons were sickeningly skewered on top of fences and vandals smashed up allotments, leading to calls for the path to be shut.

Ahead of the meeting there was a petition signed by 215 people opposing the closure while letters were also received from bowling clubs and bowling associations opposed to the closure.

Chris Scaife, the council’s countryside access officer, told councillors there had been a request from the allotment association to permanently close the path and felt the proposal should be considered “openly and fairly”.

Councillors heard between April 2010 and March 2012 there had been 25 recorded crimes and incidents, six of which related to cruelty to animals with three occurring at the beginning of March this year.

Meanwhile, 68 per cent of the 25 crimes were categorised as burglary offences.

A report said the crime pattern was erratic with two main spates in September 2010 and March this year but there was no mention as to whether the Black Path had been used in conjunction with any crime committed.

There was no information available since March and councillors said there was insufficient evidence for them to agree to close it.

There was also concern a permanent closure could trigger a claim to have the path added to the definitive map register, for public use as of right, which can result in a public inquiry to decide the outcome.

Members also heard that the council had last year erected an eight foot high fence along the path to boost security.

Putting Hartlepool First group leader Geoff Lilley said: “I don’t think there is sufficient evidence to close it but it is perhaps something we can review at a later stage.”

Conservative group leader Ray Wells added: “What really disturbs me, is if we decide to close it then there is every chance people could call a public inquiry at vast expense, which we could well do without.”

Labour councillor Chris Simmons was disappointed there wasn’t up-to-date crime figures but said the path was popular with people and didn’t see any reason to go-ahead with the closure.

Labour councillor Rob Cook, chair of the planning committee, added: “I think it would be a backward step by closing it and I certainly hope that members will not vote for it to close.”