Landowner claims ‘conspiracy’ as 18-year footpath battle goes to inquiry
Rhiannon James, local democracy reporter
When is a footpath not a footpath?
This week a planning inquiry has looked into an 18-year-long argument over the status of a footpath in Tredomen.
In 2019, Caerphilly County Borough Council declared a new public right of way between Park Lane, Tredomen, and an existing footpath – which has been designated the number 39.
This was approved under Section 53 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and followed a 2017 application from resident Susan Smith.
Mrs Smith, 74, says she has been walking the path since she was a little girl. At the inquiry, she said: “We’re determined we don’t want to lose this footpath as we only have one left.”
Ellen Salton took ownership of land the footpath crosses in 2002 and erected “private property” signs to deter residents from using it.
Residents argue the signs didn’t appear until 2004/2005. Miss Salton claims there is a “conspiracy” against her.
An application for a right of way was originally made in 2005 and this was re-submitted in 2017, after the original applicant moved out of the area.
Due to “council backlog”, the 2005 application was not decided until 2019. Caerphilly County Borough Council has been asked to comment on the 14-year wait.
Ms Salton is appealing against the decision – hence the inquiry via Welsh Government agency Planning and Environment Decisions Wales (PEDW).
Planning inspector Janine Townsley must decide, on the balance of probabilities, whether the path was used for at least 20 years prior to 2002 without “force, secrecy or permission”.
This was the view of Caerphilly Council planning officer Stefan Denbury, who made the 2019 decision. He has been accused of “inexperience” by Ms Salton’s representative.
Andy Dunlop, who is representing Ms Salton, told the inquiry: “This order should not have been made if proper investigation had occurred.”
Countering this, the council’s barrister Howard Leithead referred to Mr Denbury as a “professional officer with a professional qualification”.
Ms Salton maintains there is not a clear path and the area was not used by residents.
But Mr Leithead said: “If people weren’t using that path, why would they campaign so hard for so many decades for the right to do it?”
Resident Diana Tura described the bluebell woods along the path as her “sanctuary”.
She said: “All the people in Tredomen just want to keep what we have, nothing more.”
Fellow community member Brian Elliot spoke on behalf of other supporters at the inquiry.
He said: “We have used the through route over many decades consistently.” He added the community wants access to the “peaceful” area.
But David Horgan, who owns a nursery in the area, spoke in support of the objector Ms Salton. He said he had never walked the footpath described by the residents.
During the past four years, the path has remained closed while the appeals process takes place. Residents expressed their dismay that the path hasn’t been open during the process.
Susan Smith said she was disappointed the path had been closed during the appeals process. She added that she would like to see the path go back to how it was “straight away” if the order is approved.
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.