Manchester town hall has been landed with a £40,000 bill after losing a battle with green campaigners.
The council had tried to officially close a waterside footpath in Chorlton arguing it had been abandoned since the Second World War and was ‘unnecessary’.
Politicians say making the 275-yard route – known as ‘Footpath 181’ – safe to use could cost taxpayers £100,000.
But last month a judge ruled in the favour of a group of ramblers and nearby residents who argued the council had repeatedly promised to clear it in the past.
Ramblers have been fighting to clear the path – which runs through Chorltonville, behind Anchorside Close – for years.
And in 2010 council officers indicated work would start on reopening it the following year.
But Judge Paul Richardson ruled officers had either ‘deceitfully fobbed off’ the campaigners or radically changed their mind. He has now ordered the council to pay all legal costs associated with the case, totalling £42,000.
Coun Bernard Priest, the council’s executive member for neighbourhood services, admitted it had at one point considered clearing and reopening the path but the estimated costs had been greater than expected.
He added: “This is extremely frustrating, especially in the context of the financial pressures facing the council.”
Local Liberal Democrats – who agree the path needs closing – said the town hall had brought the situation on itself.
Chorlton councillor Victor Chamberlain dubbed it a ‘cock-up’, while Withington MP John Leech said it had failed ‘miserably’ to deal with the problem years ago, when Anchorside Close was built.
Mr Leech added: “I have no problem with the action the council has taken recently and support going for the official closure because it had to be done – but it’s been the council’s incompetence over the decades that’s led to this.”