Bitter Welsh footpath dispute settled after more than a century

Barmouth Bridge Canva

Stephen Whale of Landmark Chambers, representing landowner objectors, has helped defeat a very long-running and highly contentious application to add a footpath to the definitive map and statement over land in North Wales.


Solomon Andrews was a Victorian and Edwardian entrepreneur, best known for the bus and tram services he operated in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In the late 1800s, he purchased a large swathe of land on the south bank of the Mawddach estuary in North Wales. The area was, in the main, sparsely-populated farmland plus sand and peat bog. But Mr Andrews had other ideas. He conceived of a huge new purpose-built holiday resort. He secured the Crown’s rights and interests in the foreshore, created access by blasting through rock faces, built a sea wall, infilled the land behind it with a vast quantity of quarry waste, put in place a network of tramways and constructed a range of properties. These included the terrace of properties at Mawddach Crescent, described in some quarters as affording the best view in Wales. In 1903, visitors began to arrive by tram and also by boat.

Mr Andrews’ development was not all plain sailing. In 1907, the parish council wrote to his agent, proposing that Mr Andrews, “should in accordance the public spirit which you have always shown dedicate the new roads which you have constructed to the public instead of the old paths closed and partly destroyed.” As for this dedication proposal, Mr Andrews’ agent was dismissive. As he put it in an internal memo: “The matter is really too childish to be taken notice of, the Public has ten times more than has been taken from them, suppose you tell them that you will consider the matter when you are here next, the Election will then probably be over, and we may hear no more about the matter.” In 1908, Solomon Andrews died and his holiday resort idea did not come to fruition.

It was not the end of the matter, at least not as far as the promenade between the Mawddach Crescent properties and the sea wall was concerned. The fact that the Admiralty requisitioned the land for a Royal Marines camp during WWII did nothing to quell the conviction of many local residents and others that they had every right to walk the promenade as well as over “the Cob” as far as the bridge to Barmouth. The introduction of new signage and a locked gate likewise did nothing to quell that conviction. In 2014, a Mr Roberts made a formal application to record the promenade and the Cob as an official public footpath. Despite the Crescent owners’ objection, Gwynedd Council acceded to the application and made an Order. The Crescent owners again objected and a 9-day public inquiry ensued.

Stephen Whale represented the Crescent owners throughout the objection period and at the public inquiry. On 5 October 2023, the Inspector appointed by the Welsh Ministers upheld the objection with the effect that the Order has not been confirmed. Amongst other findings, the Inspector accepted the objectors’ submission that a public right of way could not have been dedicated during the period of military requisitioning. It followed that the Council’s reliance upon a 1942-1962 period was misplaced. The Inspector also rejected the Council’s belated reliance upon a 1986-2006 period. Indeed, the Inspector accepted the objectors’ submission that the Council had acted unreasonably in certain respects. In the final analysis, certain signs plus verbal challenges were fatal to the application.

Thus ends a dispute which has festered for over a century.

A copy of the Order Decision may be accessed via this link.

In the last year alone, Stephen Whale has assisted landowner clients in defeating claims of new public rights of way in Kent, Wiltshire, Hampshire and Gwynedd. He is presently seeking to do the same with respect to land in Shropshire. Stephen has a particular interest and expertise in rural matters, including public rights of way, planning, village greens, commons, National Parks, forestry, NPPF paragraph 80e properties and SSSI consents.

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