AN independent inspector has delivered a huge blow to campaigners by rejecting their bid to have a controversial piece of land in Ramsbottom — closed off to the public for three years — registered as a town or village green.

The recommendation by Alan Evans, following a three-day public inquiry at Ramsbottom Civic Hall in March, will go to Bury Council which will make a final decision on the issue.

Ramsbottom Heritage Society had spearheaded the campaign for town or village green status for the land, known as Church Fields.

The society contended that the land had been the town’s communal open space for at least 200 years.

But at the inquiry, landowners Peel Investments (North) said that until 2004, and at least since 1977, the land had been fenced, roped off, grazed and supervised.

Witnesses for both sides had given either verbal or written statements at the inquiry, chaired by Mr Evans.

A number of people said they had frequently used the land prior to it being fenced off in April, 2011, and had never seen horses or trespass signs and had never been challenged.

But others claimed that up to 2004, horses had been grazed on Church Fields on a rotational basis and that “please do not feed the horses” and “no trespassing” signs had been in place.

In his report, Mr Evans said: “Overall I consider, and find accordingly, that while there was some occasional use of the application land for grazing in the March to October period in the 1990s and early 2000s it was, indeed, infrequent.”

He continued: “The use of paths on the application land seems to me to be of particular significance in the present case.

"The application land is crossed by Footpath 81 which is a public right of way and clearly a well used route.

"Use of Footpath 81 has been ‘by right’ and any such use must be discounted from consideration.”

Mr Evans said he also found that the permissive path always marked a clearly defined route across the application land between 1991-2011 and that this too was well used over that period.

At the conclusion of the report, Mr Evans stated: “The application fails for want of identification of an appropriate qualifying neighbourhood and on the basis of an insufficiency of use evidence apart from evidence of use of Footpath 81 and the permissive path.

"I recommend accordingly to the registration authority that it should be rejected.”

Andrew Todd, president of Ramsbottom Heritage Society who had represented the applicants at the public inquiry, said: “The campaign was a massive community effort, with more than 140 people contributing questionnaires and witness statements.

"Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to convince the inspector. We have no right of appeal.

“No one has any idea what Peel intends for the land.”

Cllr Ian Bevan said: “I am very disappointed at the outcome of the inquiry.

"I do hope that the landowners Peel will respect the wishes of Ramsbottom residents and allow Church Fields to be used by residents.”

Peel declined to comment.