AN AREA of land previously enjoyed by the public has become the centre of a legal battle between the county council and a landowner.

Nearly a year ago, Hampshire County Council (HCC) began using enforcement powers to maintain highway rights at the junction area between the A3057 and B3420, where public access was blocked by landowner Simon Nelson, who runs Nelson Plant Hire.

The land had been used as a place for the public to park and access walking routes for decades, is now known informally as ‘Nelson’s Corner'.

Test Valley Borough Council first received a complaint on 24 April 2017 about a fence being put up around the plot. Reports also detailed a car, tree and a boulder blocking off the area.

County council executive member for environment and transport, Councillor Rob Humby, said: “We are aware of the longstanding issue regarding restricted access to an area of highway land at Wherwell, near Stockbridge. We have already successfully taken action against the adjacent landowner in order to protect this public highway asset, including forcing the removal of a fence and gates to ensure people could continue to exercise their highways rights on this land. Obstructions such as parked vehicles are generally a matter for the police to deal with, but we are aware of this particular situation and will continue to take action where necessary to maintain highway rights.”

It is understood by neighbouring parish councils and county councillor Andrew Gibson that while Mr Nelson owns the land, part of it has been a dedicated as public highway since 1939, most recently used as a car park.

It has been likened to a privately-owned field with a public footpath going across it, which must be left publicly accessible.

Residents have repeatedly raised the matter, as recorded in Wherwell Parish Council minutes dating back to July.

In January, the document read: “Concerns were again raised regarding the land at the junction of the B3420 with the A3057. District Councillor Drew reported that the HCC legal team is pursuing the matter, adding that it can be a lengthy process.”

Wherwell Parish Council chair Sean Hutton told The Advertiser the parish had received ‘numerous complaints’ from its residents as well as Andover residents about the blocked access.

One dog walker said the area used to be part of normal routine life.

Mike Ryan said: “As one of the regular people that parks up and walks the dogs, we’re all saying the same what’s going on?

“Golfers, ramblers, people just used to park up to have lunch there. Two years ago there was a man running a burger bar business and all the truck guys used to come through and stop for lunch.

“There is an area that both lots [Hampshire County Council and Nelson Plant Hire] could meet and both could find a way but it seems a little bit too far gone for that, we shall see.”

On Tuesday, at a Goodworth Clatford Parish Council meeting, borough councillor Graham Stallard reiterated a ‘legal conversation’ was being had between the parties.

Cllr Stallard said: “We know there is a legal conversation going on with potential litigation between Mr Nelson and Hampshire County Council.”

Mr Nelson declined to comment after being approached by The Advertiser on several occasions.