Yorkshire villagers angry with developers over access to ancient footpath

Wakefield Council has intervened in a row between angry residents and a developer over access to an ancient village footpath.

People living in Woolley claim builders blocked a cherished pathway known as the Avenue of Trees which runs to the rear of a Grade I listed church. The dispute is the latest fallout over the construction of exclusive properties in the rural village to the south of Wakefield.

Linfit Developments Ltd has been granted permission to build six detached homes on land adjacent to the footpath. The well-trodden path is thought to be the route taken to St Peter’s Church from Woolley Hall by the Wentworth family, who for centuries owned the 17th century country house nearby.

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Woolley Residents’ Association complained to the council after finding the path fenced off at both ends last weekend. Residents and local councillors were pictured in the churchyard in front of the fenced-off path on Sunday (May 14).

Residents of Woolley village are angry about the use of the ancient footpath under new plansResidents of Woolley village are angry about the use of the ancient footpath under new plans
Residents of Woolley village are angry about the use of the ancient footpath under new plans

In a statement, the residents’ association said: “The public footpaths within this greenbelt field are loved and well used by not only residents of Woolley but also walkers from far and wide. Until now everyone has had access to this centuries old path between these beautiful mature trees that form the Avenue of Trees. The local and wider community are very concerned that this precious feature may be about to be lost.

“Residents have been extremely active in making Wakefield Council aware of their concerns to no avail. They are frustrated by this obstruction of a public right of way.”

Residents have been backed by Samantha Harvey, Conservative councillor for Wakefield Rural ward.

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She said: “Woolley is a historic conservation village that needs to be protected for all. The council must protect not only this public right of way but also its unique setting.”

Woolley resident Richard Dixon tadded: “The fences blocking the path had gone by Monday. That’s probably because the council was bombarded by so many emails of complaint. Lots of people are upset about it and as far as we are concerned it is completely illegal.

“That footpath has been there for over 400 years and it is a very historic part of the village. We are trying to get it listed with Historic England so it is properly protected in the future.”

Gary Blenkinsop, the council’s service director for environment and streetscene, said: “We fully recognise the value of public rights of way for local communities. When we were made aware that the footpath in Woolley had been obstructed, we contacted the owner of the land who explained to us that they were intending to install permanent fencing alongside the footpath to separate it from the field.

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“The temporary fencing they had put up appeared to require users of the footpath to deviate slightly. However, plans for the permanent fencing show that the path is to remain on its historical line and so no further action is required at this time. Landowners are permitted to fence public footpaths on their land, and many do so for a variety of reasons.

“This can include to prevent trespass, and where stock is kept, for the safety of the public as well as the animals being kept in the field.”

Linfit managing director John Munnelly declined to comment when contacted.