RESIDENTS in Torquay are up in arms after a popular path and shortcut was closed.
The pathway, which runs alongside Torquay Grammar School for Girls from Queensway through to Shiphay, is now out of bounds because of concern for 'undesirables' in the area.
Grammar school bosses claim the move has been prompted by some unwanted approaches to students in the secluded shortcut.
And it wants to protect the site while building work on a new sports hall is under way.
Sharon Wallwork, the school's director of finance and resources, claimed: "There have been incidents along the path that have endangered our pupils and we have decided along with the boys' school that the path is closed.
"It is a difficult situation but it is not registered as a public right of way and it is on the school's land.
"We know it is used by the public but we have to put safety first."
Ms Wallwork said on occasions police have been alerted and school staff had patrolled the route.
She said the building work continues until September and the governors will look again at the decision in the summer.
She said: "Our contractors are insisting on a secure site. We can't have anybody going on to the site and it has to be secured to trespassers."
Residents have raised concern about the loss of the shortcut which they use to reach the doctors and dental surgeries in Shiphay Lane.
Ward councillor Mark Pountney said: "I fear the real objective here is to close the path permenantly to the community in order for the school to protect its perimeter.
"We want to organise a meeting with governors to see if we can come to an agreement and if not, I will help the community to get a legal right of way to force them to re-open it. The choice is theirs."
Neighbour Raymond Ryalls said: "Scores of people have been using that path for decades.
"The school students use it and it eases congestion on the main road with parents dropping them off. We are worried that it will be closed permanently."
They have contacted Torbay Council to find out about registering it as a public right of way arguing that it has been used for years.
The school is likely to argue against right of way due to security reasons — a provision open to schools under the Highways Act.
A Torbay Council spokesman said: "The footpath, owned by the grammar school, is not a registered public right of way. Therefore, the school is entitled to close it when necessary.
"The council has received a few calls from local residents and an officer has advised them of how they can start the process of applying to register the footpath as a public right of way should they wish to do so."
Contractors are currently on site building the new £1.8million sports hall.
The school has fundraised and secured a total £1.6million grant from the academy capital fund for the new facility which includes four tennis courts, a fitness suite, classroom, viewing gallery, office space and changing rooms.
The hall is being built next to the all-weather pitch on fields near Heywood Close.
Ms Wallwork said: "This is an exciting venture for us that will widen the sports available for our students and go along way to addressing gender equality in sports."
Sherri Pomeroy, neighbourhood Police Community Support Officer for Chelston with Cockington, said there had been one incident where a man was arrested for exposure.
She said the main issues were security and dog fouling.
She said: "The decision is around the health and safety and welfare for the students.
"The lane is quite secluded and during school hours when it is very quiet, potentially it could be attractive to people looking for somewhere a little more private.
"The main issues are dog fouling which may not seem such an issue for the older children but it is for pupils at the neighbouring primary school.
"It is about their welfare rather than undesirables."