UPDATE: Landowner asked to reopen popular Costessey footpath blocked with barbed wire and gates

A landowner who shut a footpath despite being paid by Natural England to maintain it has been ordered to open it again.

The path which links Townhouse Road in Costessey, where developers want to build 70 homes, to Marriott's Way was shut last week following a warning from the farmer that walkers were letting their dogs run loose, fly-tipping and damaging crops.

But through an agreement with Natural England and Defra the landowner is paid money each year to maintain the footpath.

Natural England has now asked the landowner to unlock the gates to give access to walkers again.

Under the scheme called Higher Level Stewardship, landowners retain control of the path, meaning it is not a public right of way, but are expected to keep it open.

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A spokeswoman for Natural England said: 'We are currently in the process of investigating a reported breach of a permissive access agreement in Costessey.

'As this access is set up and funded through an environmental stewardship scheme, Natural England would expect it to be in place for the period of the agreement, in this case 10 years from the start of the agreement.

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'We will look closely at the circumstances and aim to resolve the issue as soon as possible.'

A sign was put up two weeks ago warning that the path may be closed as people were allegedly fly-tipping on the land and allowing their dogs to harass horses.

But Costessey Parish Council has responded by attempting to make the path a public right of way by applying to Norfolk County Council.

Parish council chairman Vivienne Bell said: 'All we can do as a parish council is to follow the procedures. The fact is that it has been a community amenity and we are hoping it will continue like that.'

Costessey County Councillor Tim East said: 'The closure has caused a furore. There is a great deal of unease.'

Mr East added he hoped the parish council could reach a compromise with the landowner.

Bidwells who act for the landowner were unable to comment yesterday.

•Do you have a story about Costessey for the Evening News? Contact reporter Tom Bristow on 01603772313 or email tom.bristow@archant.co.uk.

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