A PETITION launched to reopen a popular walking spot is likely to fail, it was claimed.

The Grade II listed Martholme Viaduct lies between Great Harwood and Read and has been closed since the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001 despite a long-running campaign to see an 800 metre-long route reopened to the public.

Calls were made for the county council to throw its weight behind the campaign to reopen the 19th century viaduct, which was built to carry the Great Harwood Loop of the East Lancashire line over the River Calder, and a nearby footpath.

But while the owner of the viaduct, charity Sustrans, said it would be keen to reopen it to the public, landowners who run the nearby Heywood Bridge Caravan Park said opening a footpath there would damage their business.

Company director Richard Hanson said he did not want to create a footpath for three reasons — security, liability and because the route runs past his caravans which are used by customers as a ‘retreat’.

He said the proposed route leads straight past caravan windows, is used to transport animals and machinery, and has attracted anti-social behaviour in the past, causing concern to people staying there.

He added: “It’s not a case of us being worried about what could happen, but what has happened. A few years ago, two teenagers fell down one of the gaps on the railway. One was seriously hurt and had to be airlifted to hospital.

“They were trespassing but the landowner got a bill for £350,000.

“His insurance paid for it after a court case but you can imagine the worry.

“And two weeks ago youths smashed a window. They were chased off by one of the residents. The police advised us to keep the route closed.”

County councillor for Great Harwood, Gareth Molineux, said that the route — although used by the public — has never been a public right of way.

He said: “People had used the route previously but when it was closed off by the owners, an application was considered on whether a footpath had already been established — and if so to record it on the Definitive Map and Statement.

“This was refused in 2004. A further appeal against this decision was lodged but this was also refused in 2005.”

Coun Molineux said that the county council is keen to see the route created but could not use compulsory path creation powers because it could not afford to pay Mr Hanson compensation if it negatively affected his business.