NORTH Yorkshire Police has been told by highways officials that it has committed an offence by blocking a popular footpath as residents accused the force of compounding their misery during Coronavirus lockdown.

Residents of Newby Wiske, near Northallerton, said while the force has strongly advocated people exercising locally during the pandemic, pleas to unblock the permissive path for vulnerable people had been ignored at a time when such resources have become even more precious.

North Yorkshire Police, which has been trying to sell its former headquarters since 2016, has also been warned by North Yorkshire County Council it faces enforcement action unless it stops blocking the disputed public right of way at the entrance to the grade II listed property it hopes to sell to children’s holidays firm PGL.

PGL, which last year received planning permission to create a 550-bed centre featuring an array of outdoor activities in the village despite a concerted campaign from residents, has proposed the removal of access to the path, which residents have applied to the county council to make a public footpath.

It remains unclear whether the police’s deal with PGL hinges on whether the path, which more than 100 residents say they have used in recent years, is designated as a public right of way.

Residents said the force initially tried to stop residents from accessing a permissive path they have used for decades last year by gating the entrance, before workmen with a police escort erected a fence in February to stop people side-stepping the gate.

In response to the fence application, highways officers have stated it was “an offence” to obstruct a public right of way and enforcement action could be taken to remove any obstruction, meaning the gate must be opened.

The officers said even if there is a ‘claimed’ public right of way, it should be regarded in the same way as a designated public right of way until the disputed route is resolved.

The response stated: “The existing public rights of way on the site must be protected and kept clear of any obstruction until such time as an alternative route has been provided by either a temporary or permanent order.”

Following commissioner Julia Mulligan appealing for residents to “stay home and stay local”, David Stockport, of Newby Wiske Action Group, said he had urged the police commissioner’s chief executive to re-open the path around the grounds.

In a letter to the commissioner’s office, he said the path was ideal for residents to use to take exercise during the Covid 19 outbreak, but his approach had received no response.

He said: “What makes the actions of the police particularly disappointing is the fact that Newby Wiske has a relatively high proportion of older people and people who have disabilities who could get great benefit from the use of the footpath, while still being able to self-isolate.”

North Yorkshire Police said it was unable to provide an immediate response to the council’s statement or residents’ claims.