A patch of land between Highlands Road and Winton Chase has caused tension among residents after disagreements over its use.

The land, which runs in a strip between the two roads from London Road to the field at the top, has become the centre of a dispute over whether or not it should become a right of way. A fence was erected across a portion of the land, causing anger from those who believe it should be a footpath.

While noting that it is not officially designated, one resident said there was a “very strong case to be made for this footpath to remain in public usage” and prevent it being “arbitrarily” closed off.

However, the owner of the land, Stuart, said that neighbours had been informed of his plans to erect beehives on the site and had not raised objections.

“I believe to the best of my ability I was transparent: no deceit, no cover-ups,” he said. He added that he was open to discussions about allowing a footpath on his land, saying: “Had they contacted me, I’m a fairly amenable person, but nobody’s asked me.”

The land between Winton Chase and Highlands Road was originally part of the perimeter of the former Andover Boys School, with the strip allowing a farmer to access the field at the top of Highlands Road. At this time, the track was accessible, and used by boys from the school as part of their cross country runs.

Following the demolition of the school and the construction of Winton Chase, the land was in the hands of Test Valley Borough Council (TVBC), who entertained offers to sell the land but none were progressed. When social housing was built at the top of Highlands Road and passed into the hands of Aster, the land went with it. Subsequently, in 2017, the company announced a consultation on plans to build a house on the site.

At this point, Stuart, who had previously tried to find the owner of the land without success, contacted Aster to enquire about the possibility of purchasing part of the plot from behind his neighbour’s house down to the road. A sale of the land to him was completed in 2019.

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“I sent a letter to my neighbours in Winton Chase and Highlands Road in November to say what I planned to do,” he said. “If anyone wanted to raise concerns they had the opportunity. One person got in touch to say they wanted to store a shipping container there, and that was the only feedback we had to the letter.”

In the letter, seen by the Advertiser, Stuart told his neighbours that he intended to construct two beehives on the site, as well as a storage building and vehicle access from the road, while also providing an extension to his garden. He included his contact details for concerned parties to contact him.

He also cleared the land at this time, which is when he said that a couple of neighbours first began to complain and that he tried to assuage their concerns. He claims others supported his move, having said the path was a ‘security risk’.

Stuart then submitted a planning application on the land in March 2020, when others also raised objections. In a submission to planners, Andover Ramblers said that the site was “a well-used path” and could be eligible to be recognised as a public right of way, though noted that there was currently no official recognition of the site.

Similar points were raised by TVBC’s landscape team, who asked whether it should be designated as a right of way, as well as raising concerns that converting the site would remove “an important landscape buffer” of green space, as well as have a potential impact on neighbouring trees.

During this process, Stuart also applied for a Section 31 order on the land, which prevents rights of way being recorded on the land which did not already exist. Following the withdrawal of the planning application, Andover Ramblers later made an application in September for a public right of way to be designated on the land.

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Later that month, dense vegetation along the whole strip of land, which had regrown since it was first cleared, was cut back by a third party, which led Stuart to complain to police about criminal damage and erect a fence around the land. He says an official from TVBC visited the site in December and found that the fencing was legal, but was told not to construct anything on the site.

This angered residents who believed the land should be a public right of way. In a letter discussed at a planning meeting of Andover Town Council, one resident said that the route had been in use since 1952.

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They wrote: “I do feel there is a very strong case to be made for this footpath to remain in public usage and for it to be fully and legally designated as a public right of way as it has clearly been in constant public use for in excess of 20+ years.

“Please, I hope you will agree, it should not be allowed to fall into the hands of any one person who has acquisition designs on land which has been in common use to the benefit and enjoyment for all for so many years.”

Town councillors also supported it to become a public right of way, with Cllr Barbara Long saying she would support it to be designated officially.

Cllr Robin Hughes, who remembers using the land as part of his run while at the former school, said that the council needed to clarify if there were any rights of way on the land.

He said: “I don’t know whether that footpath is still extent since the building of Winton Chase, so that need to be clarified with the county council. If it is a footpath, we want it to remain a public footpath. If the rights have been extinguished at some time in the past, that’s where we are.”

The council resolved to write to Hampshire County Council regarding the matter.

In response to these concerns, Stuart admits the land has been historically as a path, but noted that the school may have had the landowner’s permission at the time. He claims that anecdotal evidence from neighbours in support of his application shows that the route fell out of use in the 1980s and became overgrown.

“I wouldn’t have bought it if it were a footpath,” he said.

He added that he thought he had been open with neighbours, saying: “I believe to the best of my ability I was transparent: no deceit, no cover-ups.”

He added that he was open to discussions about allowing a footpath on his land, saying: “Had they contacted me, I’m a fairly amenable person, but nobody’s asked me.

“Anything’s possible, and I’m absolutely open to discussion.”