Ramblers are threatening legal action against a water company which they say has unlawfully blocked a public footpath.

Members of Sussex Ramblers claim that Southern Water has fenced off a section of the Brighton to Peacehaven cliff path for its Portobello pumping station works without the required permission.

Chris Smith, from the group, said: “We accepted that the work had to be done, but it has now been finished for a while.

“We were patient because we were under the impression that they had obtained the relevant approval.

“However, after some digging around by David Brookshaw of the South Downs Society, it became clear that they hadn’t.”

The matter dates back some 20 years, when the previous water company set about constructing the pumping station.

Keep out signs were erected and, despite heavy opposition, the construction went ahead.

In recent years ramblers, East Sussex County Council, which is responsible for keeping the path, and the water company have attempted to come to a compromise.

Footbridge suggestion

Mr Smith added: “We have tried to speak to them whenever we can and have suggested the option of reinstating the footpath in the form of a footbridge.

“We are in this for the long run though.

“We have taken legal advice and have made sure we have sufficient funding to take this all the way.

“If Southern Water went and dug up the coast road and then left it, there would be uproar. But because it’s a footpath, they think they can get away with it.”

The group notified Southern Water three weeks ago of their intention to take legal action, but are yet to receive a response.

Cliff excavation

A company spokeswoman said: “We are committed to resolving this longstanding matter and are continuing our discussions with East Sussex County Council.

“The footpath cannot be reinstated along the original alignment, as a section of it is in mid-air due to the essential cliff excavation work carried out by the water authority in the early 1970s.

“This excavation took place when the present Portobello works were constructed, which was prior to Southern Water taking over the operation of this site.

“We will continue our discussions with the county council to secure a resolution.”

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