Sunday, August 13, 2006

Fence Controversy

Councillor Roger Symonds and Cllr Gitte Dawson (Bathavon South) have been trying to prevent the proposed six foot high fence being erected between Oldfield Rugby Club's ground and the pathway linking Combe Down with Mount Pleasant.
It was very unfortunate that Council staff offered to fence in Oldfield Rugby Club’s land for them as compensation for the disruption caused by the bat mitigation works – without talking to residents or even informing any of the three councillors in the two wards involved. That is at the root of the impasse that has arisen at Combe Down / Mount Pleasant over the fencing of the public footpath.
The Rugby Club has every right to fence in their land. A fence up to 2 m requires no planning permission, nor are there any AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) rules to prevent it. But local people will not like it – they are used to the open space there and the pleasant walk along its edge.
Already, seven years ago, the other side of the path was fenced in with 6-ft high wire mesh. It really spoiled the look of the path. But there was real danger on the other side – cavities in the ground from the old quarry – and there was nothing councillors could do to get it removed, or even changed. People learned to live with it. What grates with people now, over this current dilemma, is that the proposed new fence on the other side (not 6-ft wire mesh now; but a rather more attractive 4-ft metal railing) is to be constructed by the Council, with public money. Alerted by local residents, councillors were able to stop the work temporarily so discussions could be held, residents consulted and alternatives discussed. Now that there is full awareness, it is apparent that people do feel very strongly.
We have seen a petition with 94 signatures on it – pleading with the Club not to fence in their fields and thereby this public path. Many personal letters have also been written. Those we have seen make no demands; they plead with the Club to reconsider. A main concern is that a fenced-in path will feel unsafe, a view confirmed by the Police.
This fear may not be rational, but it is still a fear. People will use the path less with a fence on both sides – especially parents with children. They will end up walking along Shaft Road (which does not have a footway) or go by car. What a shame – in a Council which actively promotes walking.
Cllrs Symonds and Dawson also have a great deal of sympathy with the Rugby Club. Their wish to keep the grass free of dog mess is totally understandable. It is unbelievable that dog walkers are so insensitive as to let their dogs mess up sports grounds, and particularly rugby pitches! But it happens - the evidence is there. Anyone who cares about open spaces can help by challenging people who do not clean up after their dogs. If it’s regular walkers, they should contact the dog warden who will come and challenge offenders. The fine can be as high as £1000! We should make use of it.
So now it is stalemate over the fence. Cllrs Symonds and Dawson sympathise with both parties – the residents and the rugby players. They feel the Rugby Club is entitled to the money to build the fence – as that promise has definitely been made, is in fact laid down in a contract. Plus the Club have already had to put up with much more upheaval from the bat mitigation earthworks than they ever bargained for, and, being delayed, the work is now interfering with the rugby season!
This is poor, and the Club deserves an unreserved apology from the Council, and some real compensation. But local people should also receive an apology for the thoughtless way that the Council has behaved over this issue. Compensation the Club should have, money with which they can, if they wish, build that fence. But should it really be the Council doing the building? Cllrs Symonds and Dawson think not. It is not the Council’s job to construct a fence that is thoroughly unpopular with its own Council Tax payers – especially without consulting them. The decision about the fence must be with the Rugby Club, not the Council.


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