‘MORE communication is needed from a trust and other bodies', town council members resolved when discussing the public's right to roam on land around Gwrych Castle.

The highly charged issue relating to restrictions in place on roads and paths around the 200-year-old folly has caused some unrest amongst the public.

Outlining the matter during the ordinary meeting of the Abergele Town Council on March 4, cllr Neville Eden said: “Two emails that we have received in relation to different aspects of access to parts of the ground clearly indicate their are concerns among some residents of Abergele.

“I want also to recognise what are two important points.

Councillor Delyth A MacRae. Picture Paul Davies / Abergele Town Council

Councillor Delyth A MacRae. Picture Paul Davies / Abergele Town Council

“The castle is not actually within the Abergele Town Council boundary but within Llandudlas. As far as I know we, as a council, don’t have any power to get directly involved in what are effectively civil disputes. I think we need to keep both of those things in mind.

“That said, pathways and the bridleway have definitely been used by many residents for generations and the emails do pose legitimate questions or requests for this council.”

Cllr Delyth MacRae said for many years members of the public have enjoyed free access to the woods without direction or redress.

"Prior to the castle being built, there was an undesignated path from Llanddulas to Abergele and we are talking a long time ago," she said.

"That was for access to the mines and it was quicker to go down there and go to the market / go shopping.

"Members of the public are feeling, rightly or wrongly, they are feeling very aggrieved their enjoyment of the land as been taken away due to recent changes of ownership as well as liability and security issues.

"The woods are designated a SSSI area because that is the protection of some very rare plants.

With its sprawling design and turrets, the site is spread across 250 acres of gardens and grounds

With its sprawling design and turrets, the site is spread across 250 acres of gardens and grounds

"Ash dieback is a worrying issue in the woods and there are various parcels of lands in different ownerships.

"The paths were declassified about 30 and 50 years ago and the last review of the rights of way was about 2011 / 2012 and there was no designated paths through Gwrych Castle woods identified in that review.

"Most of the woods are leased and have been since the 1950s. They have been leased to various agencies such as the foresty commission and now Natural Resource Wales (NWR) as it was a commercial plantation post World War Two.

"I feel the land is leased by NWR and the dialogue should be initially with them and / or the trust in the first instance. The land is in private leasehold possession, accessibility should be respected.

"I have previously said we have enjoyed the woods without direct or redress and now that I understand from NRW, from information given from February from their newsletter, the area is closed off for security and liability issues.

"We should all respect that decision."

Cllr MacRae also identified that most of the issues, contained in an emails mentioned previously, related to access to the woods which lies within Llandudlas and is not the remit of Abergele Town Council.

"How do they [those who wrote the emails] see Abergele Town Council's involvement?" she asked.

Councillor Mark Bond said he wouldn't "personally" want to see the woodlands stopped being used by the public.

"I appreciate, as we all do, preservation prevails," he commented.

"But I do feel there is a lot of unrest at the moment in terms of the possibility of the woodland not being available and accessible for the public, whether they are cycling, walking or climbing.

"So perhaps if it falls in Llandudlas perhaps more so than Abergele.

"I think we do need to keep ourselves on board with what is going on. I wouldn’t like to see this woodland blocked off and not being able to used by those who want to use it."

Cllr Andrew Wood said he felt the the 'unrest' was justifiable.

The trust has secured the future of the site

The trust has secured the future of the site

"I think most people, especially the friends group, are just asking for a negotiation - to come to some sort of agreement," he said.

"I am coming on 58 and I have used it for the last 40 or so years and I have never been denied access until recently.

"I think the most frustrating thing is at the moment, what I can gather from different groups, is that the Gwrych Castle trust is not engaging with anyone. People are just after the ability to know where to go.

"Obviously you’ve got your Covid, which is someway excuses, we know that, and we are very pleased that ITV came and we put ourselves on the map.

"But they [the trust] have got to come to the floor now and start talking through Llanddulas community council or through Abergle Town Council as trustees.

"I think that is all they are asking for realistically [the friends group] and I totally agree."

Cllr Eden said the trust should enter into dialogue with the authors of the emails. He also proposed the council write a letter to the castle trust to voice their wish that disputes are resolved "constructively and collaboratory".

"I believe we have to deal with one proposal at a time," he added.

"We hope the trust will work hard to restore and retain as much as historical access as is possibly / feasible."

Cllr Bond seconded the proposal.

Councillor Alan Hunter, mayor of Abergele. Picture: Paul Davies / Abergele Town Council

Councillor Alan Hunter, mayor of Abergele. Picture: Paul Davies / Abergele Town Council

A castle source told the Journal that when ITV came for I'm A Celebrity, they did a deal with land owners and access was closed off. The land owners were paid a substantial amount of money. There is also issues of health and safety and security at play; NRW and landowners intend to conduct a review of the Ash and larch trees. Depending on the outcome, a tree safety survey of the entire site (or specific areas) may be carried out.

Conwy County Borough Council also put a statement out in regards to the land within the park walls. It said: "There are no public rights of way at Gwyrch Castle. The fact that people say it has been used for many years does not automatically give rise to public status. As it is private land owners would be within their right to secure the land.

"The only way for the routes to be recognised as public is to apply for a Definitive Map Modification Order made under S.53(2)b of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, if the application is based on the evidence of use it is still made under this Act and then considered against S.31 Highways Act 1980. The principles of common law may also apply but only providing that a landowner has the capacity to dedicate and this is still applied for under 1981 Act. Where several routes may have been used a separate application would need to be submitted for each one. Any applications for claimed rights of way will require evidence in the form of user evidence statements and accompanying maps clearly marked with the routes applied for."

A spokesperson from Gwrych Castle said: "We opened the gardens to the public in 2014 and then the castle itself in 2018. Prior to this the entire estate was closed to the public so we enabled access around the restored sections of the castle. We want to have regulated public access given that the castle and grounds are under restoration.

"The entire estate includes Manorafan Farm, Abergele Golf Club and the surrounding farmland, including the woodland which is leased to NRW and have been since 1951.

"We will continue to engage with interested parties.

"It’s been a very difficult period for all businesses in Abergele who are all still in tier four lockdown.

"We’re very much looking forward to welcoming back visitors to Gwrych Castle once we’re able to do so."

The castle also confirmed Natural Resources Wales’s position and said there has been “no change to land ownership or boundaries”.

“Gwrych Castle is privately owned estate and Natural Resources Wales (NRW) - legacy forestry commission Wales - has a long-term lease over areas of the woodland within the estate since 1951," the spokesperson said.

“There is no dedicated open access, public rights of way or permissive paths within the NRW lease land.

“NRW and Gwrych Castle Trust are working together to manage the castle and surrounding woodland and to improve public access for visitors to the castle.

“There have been no changes to land ownerships or boundaries.”

Cllr Eden wanted to resolve that the council did not provide further funding (if requested) to the castle trust whilst this dispute remained unresolved.

This was later withdrawn by both cllr Eden and the seconder, cllr Wood, after a warning from cllr Alan Hunter, mayor of Abergele, to "not go down this road".

The council said it acknowledges the work the castle trust is doing with its buildings and wider estate and acknowledged the strength of feeling by local residents.

Cllr Dickon Fetherstonhaugh said: "The council is aware other bodies are involved in the issue, including NWR, and it is the council's wish that further dialogue is carried out by all those bodies to increase access where possible over time."