A PUBLIC inquiry will be held this month to finally determine a long-running dispute over a footpath.

Hurworth Parish Council hopes to see a footpath along the River Tees, from Croft Workingmen’s Club (WMC) to Rockliffe Hall Hotel, used as a public right of way.

The dispute arose when the parish council made an application to add the footpath to definitive maps of the area, after a locked gate was put across the route.

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Croft WMC refutes the parish council’s claims, saying there has never been any legitimate public access to the path.

At a Darlington Borough Council rights of way panel in 2011, the parish council submitted 164 witness statements in support of its claim, detailing use of the footpath going back more than 70 years.

The panel found in favour of the villagers, but the club appealed the decision and the path has remained closed off.

Efforts to resolve the issue were thwarted last year, after an administrative error by the borough council saw correspondence sent to the wrong parties.

The issue is now due to be resolved in a two-day inquiry on February 26 and 27, at Hurworth Community Association, when both sides will be invited to put their arguments across.

The 2011 rights of way panel, which was made up of three councillors, decided that there was sufficient evident to show there was a public right of way on the route in question and ordered that the footpath be added to the map.

The appeal by Croft WMC led to the matter being referred to the Planning Inspectorate, which will decide whether or not the footpath will be declared a public right of way.

Hurworth parish councillor Jill Russell is hopeful the issue will be resolved in favour of the residents.

She said: “There was a great strength of feeling from people then and if anything this has grown due to the length of time this has all needlessly dragged on for.”

Simon Catterall, a partner in Jacksons Law Firm, which is acting on behalf of the club, said: “We prefer to make our representations to the inspector.”