Last Tuesday, I spent the morning representing Open Spaces Society at the pre-Inquiry meeting held by the Planning Inspector to ensure the smooth running of an Inquiry into three footpath orders, including closing of Longlands Lane to Morfa Beach. Afterwards, we walked the magnificent Morfa Beach from Longlands Lane which is the only sensible access (it’s the turquoisey one on the map below).
The Inquiry into the Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council path orders will start on November 5th. More information is on the PINs (Planning Inspectorate) website http://www.planningportal.gov.uk/planning/countryside/rightsofway/onlinerow/n – you can download the Council’s case. The campaign Save Morfa Beach is on Facebook where there is more on the objections and history. Open Spaces Society were early objectors and the objectors’ case seems convincing to me, but decisions hinge on the legal arguments, not passion, and legal talk is hard to do and expensive.
So, there we were, and 50 local objectors (anglers, surfers, local people with generations of Morfa beach enjoyers behind them), with Councillor Jones fronting their case beside the SMB chair, the Ramblers and Open Spaces. The Council have a barrister. Their Rights of Way officer is Jon Griffiths, who used to have longer hair when I knew him as the officer for Rhondda Cynon Taff. The “missing guest at the wedding” was Tata Steel because of issues of the ownership of the beach and land over which Longlands Lane passes.
The meeting was in the Orangery at Margam Country Park which is freely accessible with a bus stop outside. Margam Castle (see below), the Abbey and walled gardens, as well as the wooded hillsides and parkland, are all free and were filled with tree-climbing children outside (photo above) or activities (story-telling on Tuesday as photo below) inside. In the park, a deer herd date back to Norman times.
After, the two of us went back over the M4 to Margam and had an egg roll and tea in the caff by the Co-op to set us up for the beach. Although everyone talks about Tata Steelworks, there are several other firms, and the landscape is a mix of wild and industrial, intense natural detail against big works, vistas of white towers and black against sparkling seas and high skies.
These industrial rural scapes are every bit as enjoyable as rural idylls with church spires; the wind blows, sun sparkles, birdsong and diversity are even greater because they are not sprayed or manicured. Growing up in Manchester, I got a taste for this more active land, riding to Carrington Moss and its chemical works as well as to Tatton Park. My partner and I loved our walk along the beach against the strange steel-work backdrop.
At the pre-Inquiry, the Council’s Traffic Survey of Longlands Lane was missing because they haven’t done it yet. The Inspector pointed out that anyone can do a survey, so here is mine. It took about 15 to 20 minutes to walk to the beach, and I photographed every user we saw on the way there at around 1-30 and on the way back around 4-30 pm.
The photo shows that (apart from 2 of us), on the way down there was one walker at the railway crossing (a massively long goods train was laden with steel still hot from the press), a digger and a lorry (both with space to pass); on the way back there were 2 walkers and a dog, 4 vehicles and 2 cyclists. The lane’s surface is uneven and slows vehicles. The different users were in no danger, there often being verges or adequate width.
The lorries crossing the right of way, just past the level crossing and on the old haul road before its end are no worse than the roads my son used to cross on his way to school.
Importantly, the first of these, shown in the photos above, will continue under the Orders and the diversion is already signed for the Wales Coastal Path – a bit naughty. Yes, the usually wonderful Coastal Path seems to be involved, although it is obscure why it should run inland on one of the best and longest beaches in Wales.
Never mind – here’s the lane with beach ahead, some cattle grazing to west with steelworks in the background, the landfill entrance blocking the correct route to the beach, and some micro aircraft flying over the sands.
Going back to the cattle, in the late forties or early fifties an SMB member’s family grazed their cattle all summer, as well as working at BOC Margam. There is also a long history of the owners of the steelworks tipping, making the footpath to be diverted impassable. Recently, a license for undersea coal gasification has been granted for all Swansea Bay to Clean Coal Limited.
The beach is vast. These (below) are views from above the beach to the east towards Porthcawl over Margam Sands, and westwards over Morfa Beach. There are signs on a fence beside the path giving permission for specific groups, and many public have used the beach naturally – arguably “as of right” (without permission, license or secrecy).
The Council’s Definitive Map, which has many known errors, shows Longlands Lane stopping short of the high water mark even though the public have used it to access the beach.
It feels like walking forever on the sands, with a sea breeze and the structures above the beach as landmarks, slowly emerging and changing shape as you go by, occasionally with a flare of red or billow of white smoke. It is a very peaceful and lonely beach, where distances take on new forms.
At least, it would have been peaceful if I hadn’t realised that I had left my leather jacket in the Orangery. I took a moment on the way back to snap the view to Margam Park, the silvery trees at the top of the lane, and, of course, to stand on the high speed rail from Swansea to Cardiff. I don’t often get the chance to do that. No cars can cross the lines, and there were a few parked the other side – more users, perhaps.
Luckily, we managed to attract the attention of the staff in the Orangery just before they left – it’s a big place to run around and has more than one door. They had my jacket, and also my glasses which I hadn’t missed – many thanks to them, very kind.
I hope this is not the last few months of public access on Morfa Beach, with all its benefits for mind and health, its history and fun. A part of the Welsh coast worth being friends with, as Save Morfa Beach (Friends of Morfa) hope to prove.