Car giant BMW has won its fight to close a 2,000-year-old path at its Cowley works in Oxfordshire.

Now, up to 400 people a day will face a walk along a new route, following the crowded Oxford ring road. The Ramblers’ Association which, along with the British Horse Society opposed the stopping up of the bridleway, said today it was ‘bitterly disappointed’ by the verdict of Judge Brian Loosley.

The Ramblers’ Association (RA) now faces legal costs of £19,800; the British Horse Society’s bill is even higher, at £29,700.

The case involved a request by Oxfordshire County Council and BMW to stop up the ancient bridleway on the grounds it was ‘unnecessary’. A seven-day hearing concluded last week and the judge delivered his verdict at Witney Magistrates Court today, commenting: “David normally wins in these cases. This time it's Goliath.”

The RA maintained that the path was well used and provided a link to green space for residents of the city. It also says the mountain of evidence introduced by BMW turned what should have been a simple case into a week-long hearing, ratcheting up legal costs.

Adrian Morris, head of the RA’s footpath team, said: “We are bitterly disappointed that BMW will be allowed to close this community’s historic path, and deny hundreds of local residents per day a safe and quiet means of accessing work and the countryside beyond.

“The judge’s decision to close this safe and pleasant path flies in the face of the fight against obesity and climate change by encouraging people off their local paths and back into their cars!

“BMW flooded the court with irrelevant paperwork, turning a theoretically simple case into a five-day ordeal – eight days in total – which sent legal costs soaring sky high.”

The defeat for the RA follows a hefty legal bill when Scottish bus magnate Ann Gloag won the right to exclude walkers and cyclists from part of her Kinfauns estate in Perthshire. The RA faces costs of £92,000 after that case.

Mr Morris also criticised the council’s methods: “The RA is also frustrated that Oxfordshire County Council chose to pursue the closure through the magistrates court. This is an outmoded and costly procedure that intimidates ordinary members of the public from making their objections heard.”

The Cowley plant produces up to 800 MINIs a day and employs 4,700 people.

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