AFTER years of waiting for the construction of a footpath behind Ashbourne's Waterside Park, workers are now weeks away from moving in.
Work will start on the "multi-user path", which will run behind St Oswald's Hospital to Mayfield Road and Carnation Way, on Friday, August 1 and is expected to take about eight weeks.
The path, which has caused a storm of controversy in the News Telegraph, will follow the River Henmore, running through a forgotten area of the town and opening up a new green space for families to enjoy.
The path was due to be built as a planning condition of the construction of the retail park but legal wrangles over its size and surface between the developers and the county council have been blamed for its delay.
In recent years, Ashbourne and District 50+ Forum has been pushing for the path, dubbed Heritage Way, to be constructed.
The group said that an agreed date for its construction was "welcome news".
Forum member Jim Hudson said: "I'm very pleased that it's finally getting under way. It's taken a long time.
"I expect the path will be a great asset for the town, for locals and visitors alike."
Cedar House Investments, which built Waterside Park and is obliged to build the path, has been locked in a row with Derbyshire County Council over its width and surface.
The authority will take over the path's maintenance but has stipulated that it will only accept this obligation if the path is of "adoptable standard".
Bosses at Cedar House Investments had wanted to use crushed stone for the surface, similar to the Tissington Trail, and build it to a width of 1.3 metres, but the county council insisted it needed to be wider and made of asphalt.
This, the authority says, is to prevent any unnecessary costs to the taxpayer should the two brooks it will run alongside flood and repairs need to be made.
Cedar House's chairman, Ashbourne-born Peter Gadsby, feared the asphalt surface would be out of keeping with its rural setting.
He said: "We had always felt that having a tarmacadam walkway on green fields didn't seem right.
"We wanted to use crushed stone like we see on other rural paths like the Tissington and High Peak trails.
"But the county council was desperate to go with tarmacadam, so we've had to go with it.
"I do think it's disappointing that we're going to see a black surface in what is a lovely green setting."
Mr Hudson does not think the 1.8-metre-wide asphalt surface will look unsightly.
He said: "I think, considering how wide it is and how the vegetation will grow either side, its newness will soon disappear and it won't look out of place."
Another reason for its delay, Mr Gadsby explained, was the path's proximity to the planned site of Ashbourne Football Club's new pitch, which will be built on land gifted to the club by the developer off Mayfield Road.
The path is due to run from the rear of Bernard Gadsby Close, over two specially-constructed bridges, up towards Mayfield Road and then parallel with the road, meeting up with the Hug Sculpture car park.
The path will split off to skirt round the football pitch site before meeting up with Carnation Way, close to the Stepping Stones pub.
Allison Nolan, who owns a house in Bernard Gadsby Close, says she is thrilled the path will finally be built.
She said: "I think it's really good news and it'll be good for all the residents and visitors in the town to finally be able to use a footpath in such a lovely area."
Although the work is expected to take about eight weeks, Derbyshire Dales District Council, which oversaw the planning of Waterside Park in 2008, has put in place an enforcement order, meaning the path must be completed by the end of November.
In August last year, Cedar House Investments invited comments from News Telegraph readers over whether they thought the footpath would be right for the town.
The firm wrote an open letter, inviting people to choose between the construction of the path and some other sort of community asset.
It prompted a surge of responses, with nearly everyone in favour of the path, which they said would unlock an area of the town people had not been able to enjoy in the past.
Ashbourne Mayor Sandra Spencer said: "I'm really pleased that it will finally be coming to fruition. It's not fair that everyone's had to wait so long.
"I think it really is a forgotten part of the town and one that can finally be opened up for people who want to make use of it.
"It won't only be for the locals – it will be for the people visiting the town to enjoy, too, so it's great news."
The path will be able to be used by walkers, cyclists and pushchair and wheelchair users, which means it opens up a virtual extension to the Tissington Trial, which currently finishes at the former railway tunnel off the leisure centre car park.
Users of the trail will be able to cross the car park, walk over the bottom of School Lane, pick up the existing path at the rear of St Oswald's Hospital and then join the new path, which will start where the boundary of the hospital meets the rear of the houses at Bernard Gadsby Close – close to where a bridge will be constructed.
Following the path of the river, the route will cross another bridge, which will be constructed as part of the project, before arriving at the football pitch.