A bridge that is 'dividing communities' is still holding up the completion of a national cycle network that would stretch from Dover to St Austell.

A cycle path into Totnes via Littlehempston would complete the missing link between Newton Abbot and Totnes, and a route has been identified, but relies on permission being granted by the South Devon Railway for cyclists to use the Bulliver Bridge that connects Totnes Littlehempston station on the South Devon Railway to Totnes.

However, the South Hams HATOC on Friday heard that the railway have refused permission for the bridge to be open 24/7 for cyclists and that any attempts to negotiate with them have stalled.

The committee in March 2017 had agreed to support the principle of the South Devon Cycle Link progressing a cycle and pedestrian route from Littlehempston to Totnes via the bridge.

But Cllr Jon Morris, chairman of Littlehempston parish council, questioned why no progress had been made since March 2017.

He said: "We as a parish are getting to the point where we getting quotes to put in our own bridge to complete the link, but I don't think the tax payers would be happy putting money towards a new bridge when there is one next door that is usable that they have already paid towards.

"We have invited the South Devon Railway to come and speak to us but they have said under no circumstances will they discuss the cycle path, so they are refusing to enter dialogue with us and will only speak to the county council. It is a very cheap scheme to put through as long as we have permission to use the bridge."

Cllr Jacqi Hodgson said that she had been told that it won't cost more than £40,000 to implement the whole scheme, rather than the millions for other cycle routes, and said: "It strikes me that there is no reason for us not to do it. We should be supporting this as it ticks every single box."

The committee though were told that although they agreed with the principle of the route, it was not considered one of the council's strategic priorities, and therefore, officers had not taken it forward and started discussions with the railway.

Cllr Jonathan Hawkins said: "This has been a long running issue since 2007 and the bridge was put in by public money, but access to Littlehempston was not part of the scheme and there is no footpath between the village and Totnes. It is ridiculous that the railway has no intention of talking to anyone about it and all the other landowners are now happy with the proposals. It is a great shame that negotiations have not progressed."

Cllr Roger Croad, chairman of the committee, said that if the South Devon Railway won't speak to anyone else other than the council, then the council needs to speak to them.

Cllr Trevor Pennington had told the committee: "I have been involved in this since 2007, and progress has to be made on this now and we have to support it. Now is the time for us to make progress. There were three parties with reservations, but now the Rare Breeds Farm and South West Water are supportive of this route - the only party that is not supportive is South Devon Railway and they won't talk to the parish.

"This is a wasted opportunity and a bridge brought with public money is being used to divide communities, rather than bring them together."

However, Sam Adams, owner of the Totnes Rare Breeds Farm, speaking after the meeting, has confirmed that they are still very much against the scheme and stand with the railway.

She said: "I do see the reasons why they would want to use this route as the main road is very dangerous, but we stand beside the railway on this and we are still very much against the route due to the effect it would have on the welfare on the animals. There would be nothing to stop anyone getting to the farm and the railway and leaving it open to vandalism, and we couldn't secure against this."

Cllr Peter Smerdon said that his understanding was that the railway were objecting on security grounds as there is a risk of the station being vandalised if the gate on the bridge is open day and night.

At present, the bridge is only open when the railway is running,

But Cllr Hawkins said: "If you want to vandalise the railway, then there are ways you can do so anyway."

The Bulliver Bridge, which spans over the River Dart at Totnes, was built in 1993 to enhance tourism. It cost £172,000, of which 50 per cent was contributed by several local authorities, including Devon County Council, but is now owned by South Devon Railway.

The preferred option for the cycle path, which includes the bridge, would branch off the main cycle path through Totnes which goes towards Dartington to the north and Sharpham to the south.

Using the existing, (currently gated), bridge across the River Dart which serves the South Devon Railway Station and Rare Breeds Centre, it follows a field boundary to join an existing lane currently agricultural access and access to SWW pumping stations. This crosses the over the railway line and continues past the SWW water treatment works to rejoin the "highway" lane to Littlehempston.

The Tory MP for Totnes Dr Sarah Wollaston, had previously said Devon County Council should not be put off from using compulsory purchase orders - used to obtain land without the consent of the owner - to deal with 'gaps' in the network.

She had hit out at the 'scandal' of the South Devon railway footbridge, half of which was funded by public cash, keeping communities apart, that the existing road between Totnes and Paignton was 'hideously dangerous', and a safe route between Littlehempston and Totnes would complete the final link in the national cycle route running between Kent and Cornwall.

The committee heard that there could be some section 106 money that South Hams District Council has that could be used towards the development of the cycle path.

Cllr Rufus Gilbert added: "We need to speak to the railway so they can put their position to us and we can find out if it is achievable."

The committee agreed that the committee chairman and the two local ward members would try to meet with South Devon Railway to discuss their position and what could happen next.