Cotham School has been fighting for a number of years now to put a fence around their playing fields at Stoke Lodge. This is in order to ensure that the grounds are safe and secure for students to use. As Cotham have stated, “the ability to enter the site puts students, staff and other users at risk of interruption or attack.” It also increases the risk of dog mess and other undesirable items that would cause a risk to students.
The need to erect a fence is clear, yet a number of vocal but misguided residents have been trying to stop the school from using the fields. Many young people in our ward attend Cotham School, and I am deeply concerned about the impact that continuing to not be able to use the fields could have.
Whilst the school tried to work with the local community near Stoke Lodge to find a mutually acceptable solution, the lack of willingness to compromise has torpedoed any hope of an agreement.
Almost exactly two years ago a committee of councillors, chaired by a Conservative who had a clear conflict of interest and backed up by the Lib Dems and Green Party, voted to give the Stoke Lodge playing fields Town and Village Green (TVG) status. This conflicted decision was then overturned by the High Court and earlier this year a refreshed, Labour-chaired, committee voted to turn down the TVG application. This means that Cotham School should in principle be able to erect the fence.
The only remaining barrier was planning permission. Earlier this month it was confirmed by the council that planning permission is not needed to erect the fence. This is great news and the school is now beginning its planned improvements to the site.
The situation has become so dire locally though that residents, and I hope this is a small minority, have been verbally abusing the headteacher and have been vandalising signs erected by the school. This is shocking and upsetting in equal measure. I hope that these mindless vandals will, if caught, be punished to the full extent of the law.
As our MP, Thangam Debbonaire, said in a recent blog, this dispute has dragged on for too long. Let’s get the fence erected and Cotham students using the fields again as soon as possible!