AN ancient lane that campaigners say has had public access for 850 years is at the centre of a planning dispute after fencing was erected.

An enforcement notice has been issued by North Yorkshire County Council to remove the fence, and the authority is also objecting to a planning application for a kitchen extension on part of the public footpath at Old Lane, East Harlsey, near Northallerton.

Metal fencing has been put up across most of the lane, with only a narrow walkway remaining.

Residents have started an online petition calling on the county council to enforce the removal of the fence, which has gained almost 1,400 signatures. They are objecting to the application, along with the Parochial Church Council of St Oswald's.

The PCC said: "This land is not owned by the applicants. The PCC have access to, and have used, this historic right of way. Indeed it is the sole access for vehicular traffic required in the care, maintenance and future extension of the 'new' churchyard at St Oswald's Church."

St Oswalds Church, East Harlsey

St Oswald's Church, East Harlsey

Resident Rebecca Wright said: "Old Lane has been used by villagers for over 800 years and probably significantly longer. It's a valuable community asset and of cultural value.

A fence has been erected on the ancient Old Lane at East Harlsey

A fence has been erected on the ancient Old Lane at East Harlsey

"Many villages around North Yorkshire have ancient lanes, once used as commuter routes and for the transportation of livestock and goods between settlements. Now used for leisure and exercise. It's fascinating to walk the same routes our ancestors once used and to ponder the many thousands of people who must have walked these ancient lanes. It is a direct connection with the past.

"What we have experienced is that it's surprisingly easy for this to be taken away, hundreds of years of history for the sake of a bigger kitchen."

A fence has been erected on the ancient Old Lane at East Harlsey

A fence has been erected on the ancient Old Lane at East Harlsey

Fellow resident Marion Archer said: "The whole width of the track beside the cottage is designated as a public right of way and it should be retained to the full width, the extension does encroach upon a public right of way which should not be allowed, the track is also needed for vehicular access to both the church graveyard, the field immediately behind the cottage, and probably access to the rear of the neighbouring cottage. The applicants have already constructed a fence."

A statement to Hambleton District Council's planning department from the county council's footpaths section said: "If built as proposed the development would significantly reduce the width of public footpath no 10.42/1/1 which runs along the ancient lane known as Keld Bank.

"This would significantly diminish the historic, amenity and aesthetic value of the public footpath and would also restrict access for North Yorkshire County Council maintenance vehicles and other parties who use the lane to access their property. North Yorkshire County Council would object to any application to extinguish part of the extent of the public footpath that would be required to accommodate the development."