No sign of the fence coming down …

BRISTOL City Council says it can’t consider enforcing removal of a 2m high fence at Stoke Lodge playing fields – because of possible legal action by Cotham School.

In June the council designated the site as a village green, after a lengthy campaign by people living nearby. 

Cotham School, which had been using the fields for games lessons, had fought the application. It has switched its PE sessions to Golden Hill for this academic year but has told parents this is a temporary move “whilst we seek redress for this unfathomable decision”.

At a Public Rights of Way Group committee in September, We Love Stoke Lodge campaigners called on the council to enforce the removal of the 1.5km long fence around the fields installed by the school in 2019, as they say it breaks laws dating back 150 years.

Campaigner Helen Powell, from We Love Stoke Lodge, told the meeting: “We are delighted that Stoke Lodge is now registered as a village green, which has been the cause of much celebration. But Cotham School has said it doesn’t intend to remove its fence, even though that’s now unlawful as a result of registration.

“So the issue now is around enforcement. I’m sure we would all prefer that this doesn’t end up in prosecution, but the clock is ticking if that is the end result that is required. So we’re raising it today to make sure it doesn’t just get kicked into the long grass.”

But Green Councillor Tessa Fitzjohn, chair of the committee, said: “It’s now out of the hands of this committee, our role at the moment has really finished. 

“The commons registration authority has said that at the moment they will take a look at some point in the future about the situation with the fence, but at the moment we’re in the hands of the judicial review.”

The commons registration authority in this case is Bristol City Council – which has  told the Voice it cannot comment further while there is potential legal action.

Meanwhile Cotham School has called the opening of the park for public use a “crushing disappointment”.

Head teacher Jo Butler has declined to respond to requests from the Voice for an interview.  But in her letter to parents explaining the move to Shine Sports Ground  she said the Stoke Lodge decision by BCC was “unfathomable”.

Ms Butler’s letter said the PROWG Committee decision was “contrary to the legal advice that the committee received which was that the land should not be registered. 

“Not only is this a crushing disappointment to the school but more importantly it means that members of the public now have full and unfettered access to the playing field, including when our students would be taking part in their PE lessons.

“We deem this to present an unacceptable level of risk to our students and staff and so it is with a heavy heart that we will temporarily halt using the playing field this academic year whilst we seek redress for this unfathomable decision.”

It is not known whether this means the school will mount a further legal fight against the ruling, or will seek compensation from BCC.

After the ruling, campaigners from the WLSL Stoke Lodge group called on the school to work with them to share use of the park.  

Helen Powell told the Voice the school applied for permission for a judicial review of the PROWG committee’s decision-making, but then asked the court to ‘stay’ (freeze) the application.