THE future of a piece of land in Ramsbottom which has been closed off to the public for almost three years hangs in the balance.

A three-day public inquiry was held last week to consider a bid by Ramsbottom Heritage Society to have Church Fields registered as a town or village green.

The primary purpose was to determine whether the land, owned by Peel Investments (North), had been used “as of right” for sporting and leisure pursuits by a significant number of people for at least 20 years.

Inspector Alan Evans, who presided at the hearing at Ramsbottom Civic Hall, will consider the evidence and will advise Bury Council whether the application should be approved or rejected. The local authority will make the final decision.

The society contends that Church Fields has been the town’s communal open space for at least 200 years, but Peel says that until 2004, and at least since 1977, the land had been fenced, roped off, grazed and supervised.

Witnesses told the hearing they had used Church Fields extensively before the land was fenced off and had never seen horses or trespass signs and had never been challenged.

But James Linton, of Nuttall Lane, principal witness for Peel, said his family had a verbal agreement with John Whittaker, Peel Group chairman, to graze animals on the land.

Mr Linton said he and his family used the land between March and October each year up to 2004 and “no trespassing” signs were erected near to where the horses were roped off. The animals kept in a corral.

In cross-examination, Rams-bottom Heritage Society president Andrew Todd suggested that if any horses were on the land, they may have been on a small part not generally visible to those using the area. But Mr Linton denied this and said: “They were all over the field.”

Mr Todd questioned why there was no paperwork available relating to the grazing agreement. Mr Linton replied: “That’s nowt to do with me” and added: “Are you saying that I’m a liar — is that what you are getting at?”

Mr Todd referred to photographs, including Google Earth aerial pictures, dating back to 1984 and taken between March and October, which he said showed no horses or roped off enclosures. Mr Linton said the Google photographs would have been unable to pick out any corrals or posts.

On the claim by Mr Todd that the evidence was consistent with periodic grazing of the land, Mr Linton said: “I know what you are saying, but I rented it.”

Asked to explain why others had never seen horses on the land, Mr Linton replied: “I accept they have a different version of events than me.”

A decision is not expected for several weeks.