A GROUP of Sheffield residents fighting to preserve what they claim has been a public right of way for almost 100 years have been labelled ‘village idiots’ by the owner of the land it crosses.
The group says generations of Beighton people have used a track which runs alongside the railroad off Rotherham Road to access Rother Valley.
But the boss of the metal salvage company which owns the land claims it has never been a public right of way and has placed a gate across the track.
The move has angered locals who have launched an e-petition, calling on people to support them at a public meeting at Beighton Miners Welfare Club, High Street, on Thursday, March 17 at 7pm.
Group member Kath Davis said: “For more years than anybody can remember people have used the lane and the footpath to Rother Valley.
“It’s ridiculous - we must fight this tooth and nail for the community of Beighton.”
The protest coincides with The Star’s Love Where You Live campaign, which encourages Sheffielders to stand together to make our city better.
Coun Ian Saunders has called on anyone who may have taken pictures of the area in the past to bring them to the meeting.
He said: “The group need to prove the track has been used as a public right of way for 20 years or more. If anyone has pictures they would go a long way to proving that.”
The petition will close on April 2 and will be presented to a meeting of the full council the day after.
But Steve Winstone, MD of Advanced Metals which now owns the scrapyard previously occupied by Whiting and Biggins and before that TW Ward, says he has no intention of removing the gates.
He added: “These people are village idiots. There has been a gate there since 1932 and the road has never been a public right of way.
“It’s an industrial road, not a public right of way.
“Safety is my first concern. The road is not safe to walk along as it is used by HGVs.
“And as a scrap merchant I have been contacted by gypsies who said there were plans to make a camp at the bottom of the lane. That’s when I decided to take the necessary action.
“To oppose what I am doing is nonsense and dangerous. If people want to walk along a dangerous road and see an illegal gypsy camp they really are village idiots.”