My colleagues and I have been supporting the local community in Stoke Bishop as we try and prevent the school from fencing off the Stoke Lodge open space.
These fields have been open to the public for generations but Cotham School remain committed to erecting a 2m high fence within the listed walls. The work is being funded by a grant from the Government. They are able to do this without needing formal planning consent because the City Council has agreed, that under the terms of the Schools 125 year lease, that they have permitted development rights.
I completely disagree with this stance. I think that if you step back and consider the fact that the fencing is being erected within the curtilage of a grade 2 listed building, with dozens of protected trees, near a badger set and that the whole issue is proving deeply controversial that surely it would be better to have a publicly accessible planning process in which every facet is scrutinised.
In an effort to try and keep these fields open to the public a 'Public Right of Way' application and a 'Town & Village Green' application have both been submitted to the Council. This means that what goes up today may have to come down in a month or two. To me this only underscores why the school should have waited until after the legal proceedings had been completed as it could be a complete waste of money.
Last month I and local Councillors wrote to the Secretary of State for Education and explained that Government money might well end up being wasted if the fence has to come down. We received a reply with the following in it:
“We expect the Cotham School Trust, as with all bodies receiving CIF funding, to comply with its statutory obligations and secure any approvals, which are required to deliver their project. We have received assurance from the trust that they have complied with these obligations. However, due to the contentious issues, I have asked my officials to pause CIF payments for the time being for this project pending further discussion with the trust on the delivery of this scheme.”
We also lobbied the Council to ensure that tree protection officers came out to meet with the school contractors on site to explain what they can and cannot do in and around protected trees.
We will continue to lobby against the erection of this fence and I whole heartedly support efforts to grant these fields the formal protections of a Town and Village Green.