A CLOSED River Thames footpath which dates back to 1818 must be reopened, a planning inspector has ruled, making a beauty spot once again available to the public.

The area, including the path on the river bank behind Millbank, Marlow, went it in private ownership and was shut off with a padlocked gate in 2004.

The Ramblers Association, which protested alongside other river user groups after the Environment Agency sold off land, including the path, said it is delighted it would reopen.

The path was shut in 2004 on grounds of safety, due to erosion but had been a popular spot for walkers. Margaret Bowdery,The Rambler’s President and Footpath Secretary for the East Berkshire Group, said: “We are absolutely delighted because although it's only a short section it's a route used since 1901 for people enjoying the viewpoint of Marlow lock.”

The Ramblers took up the case in 2008 and there has been two years of litigation, culminating in the recent public inquiry. Planning Inspector Paul Dignan has now backed the Ramblers' position and ordered it be reopened.

Mrs Bowdery believes the EA allowed the closure because of complaints of Millbank residents. “They were negotiating. The agency wanted to build a flood bank in the area, so it was their mean of persuading them [the residents]”, she said.

The EA did not respond to her claim and said it no longer owned the land. The towpath goes from the River Thames’ bank to the boundary of the adjoining property, Millbank, was purchased by a private group from the Environment Agency in February 2011.

Although valued at £10,000, the towpath stretch was sold for £7,500. Historical documents were used in the inquiry and one relating to the sale of the land in 1903 read: “The purchasers and their assigns will keep and permit the hereditaments hereby assured to be used as a towpath and subject thereto as a public footpath.”

Mr Dignan said while he noted objections from residents that a footpath may be undesirable, the sole issue he was ruling on was if a public right of way existed. He concluded it did. Marlow Angling Club also pushed for the reopening. It was also once a popular fishing spot.

Anyone wishing to challenge the decision has until September to appeal. Otherwise, Buckinghamshire County Council should remove the gate and padlocks and reopen the path to public access.