The historic Co Antrim path that's sparked a right-of-way row in a quiet village
More than 100 people have written to Ballymena Borough Council over whether a path in the scenic Co Antrim village of Broughshane is a right of way.
The council is currently looking at whether the path, which was once used by millworkers on their way to work, qualifies as a right of way and should be asserted.
A dispute erupted over the summer when Raceview Mill's new owner blocked access to the path which has been used by residents and dog walkers for many years.
The owner, Ballymena photographer Roy McKeown, has told the Belfast Telegraph that he fully supports the provision of a public path through the proposed £1m mill development – but following a different route.
Resident Ken Gault, who has set up the Save the Back Avenue in Broughshane campaign page on Facebook, said it has attracted more than 400 'likes' from Broughshane people as far away as Australia and Canada.
He said he has lived there for 26 years and the mill race once ran along the route of the path behind his home, a route that links the Braid River at Knockan Bridge to the village.
"It's a little path, 3-4ft wide and has been in existence since the 1800s when it was part of a network of paths," he said.
"It went from Knockan Road, along the back of Houston and came out at the entrance to Raceview Woollen Mill."
The mill had been owned by Patton's since the 1980s but was bought by Mr McKeown after the company went into liquidation.
Mr Gault said entrances from back gardens onto the path were nailed up during the summer and notices were put up warning that the path was private property. Much vegetation was also stripped out between the mature trees along the route, he said.
Residents applied for Tree Preservation Orders.
Mr Gault said residents welcome the plans to redevelop the mill and the regeneration it will bring to the village, but are outraged that a path which was used daily has been closed.
Since Ballymena council has begun the investigation into whether the path should be asserted as a right of way, it has received 120 responses. But Mr McKeown said the current path, which runs along the back of what will eventually be enterprise units, tends to be mucky and attracts anti-social behaviour.
He said he supports a path that links the village to the river but its current location "isn't working".
Mr McKeown said he wants to create a new path through the mill development that can be locked at night by residents.
"We want to make it a path that is much better than what was there before," he said.
MLA Paul Frew said the path was very historic and dear to people's hearts but he was keen to see an accommodation that would allow a very special development to go ahead while providing a path that local people can use.
Ballymena council said it is currently assessing the status of the pathway.
A spokesperson said: "We have received 120 submissions of evidence relating to whether or not this path is a public right of way.
"These submissions are being reviewed and we will ensure all interested parties are kept up to date with clear and timely communications as we understand the sensitivities of the issue.
"We aim to complete this part of the assessment by December 2013. Council has a duty under the Access to the Countryside (NI) Order 1983 to 'assert, protect, keep open and free from obstruction any public right of way'."
The DoE said it has imposed a Provisional Tree Preservation Order at lands in the area.
A public right of way:
* is a highway which any member of the public may use as of right, not a privilege granted by the landowner;
* may be created specifically or through 'deemed dedication' (by the public using a path with the landowner's knowledge);
* may be limited to certain users;
* is a permanent legal entity and remains in existence unless and until the path is extinguished or diverted by legal process;
* must be respected by the occupier and landowner who should do nothing to obstruct the right of way