November ’21 - Applications for Town or Village Green status

for Stoke Lodge are still waiting, pending delivery to inspector

Local residents have made two applications to register around 22 acres of green space within the Stoke Lodge estate as a Town or Village Green (TVG). TVG status would protect this historic and beautiful open space from future development and preserve it for schools, local team sports and for informal public recreation and access.

The applications differ from each other for technical legal reasons but the objective is the same and, at our suggestion, they have been joined into one process. The effect is to save time and costs, because the existence of the second application cuts down the number of legal issues that need to be argued. 

It's a special legal status that can be granted to land if it has been used 'as of right' by a significant number of local inhabitants for sports and pastimes for a twenty year period. The crucial thing from the community's point of view is that a TVG cannot be enclosed by a fence; there are also restrictions on developing land that has been registered as a TVG - so you can only make changes that are for the 'better enjoyment' of the green.

If Stoke Lodge is registered as a TVG, Cotham School's fence will have to come down - but the school knew that when it put the fence up. Ofsted has made it very clear that it doesn't require a fence, and many other schools locally and nationally use unfenced, public access playing fields - so we have no doubt that Cotham will be able to do so too. That will also align with the terms of its lease - the school's rights as leaseholder of the playing fields are subject to 'all existing rights and use of the Property including use by the community'.

This video explains further.

Yes, a previous application for TVG status was initially successful but was challenged by Cotham School via judicial review. The school lost on all its substantive arguments at that review; however the High Court found procedural errors in the way that Bristol City Council had reached and recorded its decision to grant TVG status, the key issue being whether three Avon County Council signs were sufficient to mean that community use was not 'as of right' during the early 1990s. The current applications are a result of the school's attitude and actions since that date, and are based on a later 20-year period after Avon County Council was no longer in existence.  

Cotham School's application to replace the derelict pavilion at Stoke Lodge has been rejected twice by the Council and a third time by the Planning Inspectorate on appeal - each time purely because the school had failed to propose safe arrangements for travel to and from the site.

The pavilion has now been extensively refurbished but traffic problems have not been addressed.

An Inspector, Philip Petchey, has been appointed to hear the applications. Mr Petchey is a barrister with considerable experience in this area, and he is also familiar with the circumstances of these applications, having been the appointed inspector for the previous TVG application. He will determine the shape of the process - for example, whether there is a public inquiry or not. Watch this space for future developments!

Why two applications?

What is a TVG?

What about the fence? 

Wasn't there a previous attempt to do this?

What about the pavilion? 

What happens next? 

A Brief History

TVG update: we received an initial report from Mr Petchey, which outlines what he sees as the key issues for the TVG applications. His preliminary recommendation is that there is no statutory incompatibility in registering Stoke Lodge Playing Fields as a TVG (as we have always said) so great news.

However, he suggests that TVGs 2 and 3 should be rejected on the grounds that the Avon County Council signs were still valid in 1998 (even though ACC itself was dissolved in 1996). We are very surprised he has made this recommendation as we had not yet submitted our evidence on this issue; having been advised we would do so at a later stage - there is some very hefty, new factual evidence!

The Inspector has said in his report that he hasn’t seen this evidence and his conclusions are based on his assumption that the evidence remains as was in TVG1 which certainly isn’t the case.

It would be a breach of the principles of natural justice to proceed on this basis and the Inspector has made clear that he expects the parties to take the opportunity to make comments on his report, and we will be doing so in very short order.

Some of you will remember that in TVG1 there was also an initial report and recommendation before the matter went to public inquiry and subsequently to a second recommendation (which was opposite to the first one) and ultimately to judicial review- the game of ping pong continues…

This remains just part of the process, so don't be concerned by rumours on social media.


Today, 30th July 2021, submissions were made supporting the TVG application in our fight to secure lawful access to Stoke Lodge as it has been for generations. An immense amount of research and work has gone on to ensure that others can see what we’ve always known. Below is the press release that was sent out in order to keep the public informed of progress in what has become a quest that has captivated not just Bristolians but many further afield as has been seen by recent engagement by a national publication.


Campaigners aiming to restore full public access to Stoke Lodge Playing Fields have uncovered evidence that could resolve a decade-long dispute about registering the land as a town or village green (TVG).

A legal process to get the playing fields registered as a TVG is under way, aiming to ensure the removal of the 1.5km long, 2m high fence that Cotham School erected around this much-loved open space in early 2019. This isn’t the first time an application for village green status has been made: in 2016 an independent Inspector held that the legal test for registration of the playing fields as a village green was not met, based on his interpretation of three Avon County Council ‘no trespassing’ signs on the 21-acre field that were put up in the 1980s.

When Bristol City Council’s Public Rights of Way and Greens Committee considered the inspector’s recommendation in December 2016, councillors disagreed, saying that Avon County Council had never in practice objected to public use of the land. They decided the land should be registered as a TVG. Cotham School, which uses the playing fields for PE lessons around 10 hours a week, challenged the committee’s decision, and the High Court ruled that the formal minutes did not fully explain why the committee had rejected the inspector’s recommendation. The decision to register Stoke Lodge as a new TVG was overturned in June 2018.

But now research by the latest applicants for TVG status has uncovered evidence that, if it had been put before the inspector in the first process, would likely have led him to recommend registration, avoiding years of further litigation.

A vital clue came from an old press cutting dating from around December 1989, which records an incident in which groundsmen had blocked a well-used access point to the playing fields. Local residents took ‘guerilla action’ to remove the barrier and restore public access.

The article says: ‘A spokeswoman for Avon County Council, which owns the land, said there were worries about motorcycles being ridden onto the fields and a fence with a kissing gate is to be put up’. The article, together with formal Council records discovered in campaigners’ research, proves that Avon County Council intended its signs only to restrict nuisance activity (like motorbike racing on the playing fields) but that the Council ‘tacitly accepted’ other forms of public use.

A spokesperson for the We Love Stoke Lodge campaign group said:

“It’s now clear that vital evidence was not disclosed in the previous TVG application,  which meant the inspector simply didn’t see all the relevant evidence. If these documents had been made available, the land would have been registered as a village green five years ago, as Councillors initially decided - and all the drama and legal costs that have followed could have been avoided.

Our applications aim to protect vital public access to important open space, so this evidence must now be heard. Any attempt to block this will lead to still more litigation and expense for taxpayers.

But we think this is a golden opportunity for a reset and a different approach. We have put together proposals for a compromise solution that restores full public access and meets the needs of all parties, as an alternative to continuing legal action; we hope the Council and Cotham School will be open to discussing these proposals in good faith to achieve a speedy, positive and money-saving outcome for everyone.”

PRESS RELEASE    30 July 2021

So where are we now?

Our latest submissions make clear that we want a full public inquiry on the current applications - and that we think a new inspector needs to be appointed because the current inspector reached 'final conclusions' back in March. If there are further attempts to derail the proper procedure, that would lead to a judicial review. Both of those processes are expensive for all concerned - so the third and best option would be for the school and the Council to sit down with us and agree a legally binding way forward that gets the fence down for good. We don't expect a quick response, but we do feel that our applications are in a really strong position now.

In TVG1 there was also an initial report and recommendation before the matter went to public inquiry and subsequently to a second recommendation (which was opposite to the first one) and ultimately to judicial review- the game of ping pong continues…

This remains just part of the process, and not something to be concerned about whatever may be said on social media!

Inspector’s Initial Report

In March ‘21 we received an initial report from the appointed inspector Mr Petchey, which outlines what he sees as the key issues for the TVG applications. His preliminary recommendation was that there is no statutory incompatibility in registering Stoke Lodge Playing Fields as a TVG (as we have always said) so that was great news.

However, he suggested that TVGs 2 and 3 should be rejected on the grounds that the Avon County Council signs were still valid in 1998 (even though Avon County Council itself was dissolved in 1996).  We were very surprised at this recommendation as we had not yet submitted our evidence on this issue; having been advised we would get a chance to do so at a later stage. There is some very hefty, new factual evidence!

The Inspector said in his report that he hasn’t seen this evidence and his conclusions are based on his assumption that the evidence remains as was in TVG1 - which certainly isn’t the case. He acknowledged that he hadn't seen all the evidence, but said the applications should be rejected anyway.

Natural Justice

It would be a breach of the principles of natural justice to proceed on this basis and the Inspector made clear that he expected the parties to make comments on his report, which we did. We made strong submissions in May that his report could not be accepted because of the many things that had gone wrong with the procedure. The school and the Council also made submissions, and we filed a response to those submissions. With our response, we sent in some new evidence that we think will be a game-changer. More about this later.

This was certainly a very unexpected report which said, in short, Stoke Lodge did not meet the final remaining test for TVG status. How could this be? As far as we knew, the Inspector wasn’t even asked to write a report - just to set out how the process was going to work so that we could provide our evidence for this final test.

Reading the Inspector’s report, it was clear that something had gone very wrong. We asked for copies of correspondence between the Inspector and the Council so we could figure out what... we waited, we chased, our barrister chased, and finally they sent us a file of emails between the Council and the Inspector.

As we suspected, the Council did not send the Inspector the bundle of documents we had agreed with them (even though they said they had). The Inspector was never given 50 pages of our TVG applications. But the emails also show that the Inspector told the Council that we should be invited to provide our new evidence - and we weren't. They never asked for it.

Back at the beginning of March when he read the Inspector’s report our barrister said this was an “open and shut case” - it is procedurally unfair. This file of emails made that even more clear. We submitted our response to this disturbing disclosure but have had no response to date.

Long Grass

One more thing in that file of emails - probably the most shocking of all: in April 2020 the Council's legal adviser - the person leading the 'independent', quasi-judicial process for the Commons Registration Authority - received a phone call from a woman representing Cotham School, who asked her to kick our applications 'into the long grass'.

Well bad luck, Cotham - there is no grass long enough to make our applications go away, because we have a right to be heard and we have evidence that hasn't yet been seen. We haven't tried to pull strings or seek favours - we've just asked for our TVGs to be heard. We leave it to others to draw their own conclusions about why the school feels the need to act in this way.

Tacit acceptance

Those following this saga may remember that the only reason that the first TVG application was recommended for refusal was that the inspector said that the three Avon County Council signs around the fields were intended to prohibit informal use of Stoke Lodge, so public use was trespass 'at least until 1996'. In March, the inspector said that, despite the fact that he had not seen our evidence, he was sure that this would have remained the position during the 20 year period in our applications.

But you may also remember that in December 2016, Councillors on the Public Rights of Way and Greens Committee disagreed with the inspector's conclusions about those signs. Peter Abraham gave examples of incidents in which Avon had accepted ongoing informal use. In May we asked local residents for any memories about those incidents, and several had useful information. One person also passed on a press cutting from late 1989 which has a quote from an Avon County Council spokesperson about potentially installing a gate for pedestrian access at the Cheyne Road entrance. That sent us to the archives to search through old Avon County Council minutes, and we struck gold with several sets of minutes that make clear that Avon 'tacitly accepted' informal public use of its playing fields. One of the conditions for registering land as a TVG is that you have to prove that local people have used the land 'not by force, not in secret and not with permission'. 

'Force' in this sense can include ignoring prohibitory signs - that's what the inspector said we had done in TVG1 and we've now proved conclusively that that isn't the case. So the fight now will be about whether the Avon signs that the school has been saying for years prohibited informal use, actually did not. Quite the U-turn, but we're used to seeing those. The school will be trying to argue that signs that were interpreted one way by an expert in TVGs in 2016, actually provided a clear indication of the opposite intent so that everyone understood that they were being given permission to use the land. Even if they never saw the signs because there were only 3 of them on a 22 acre field.

This is great news for us because it overturns everything that was decided about the signs in TVG1. Of course, if the evidence had been disclosed in TVG1, this whole process would have been sorted out five years ago - we have no doubt that the land would have been registered as a TVG at that time. And Bristol City Council gave a commitment in TVG1 to search its archives and disclose all relevant evidence, but it failed to give the complete and correct picture about the signs.

Despite the last submissions from all parties to the Inspector being sent in July, the CRA has still not issued these to him for consideration. In fact they didn’t even try to open and read our documents until October! At some point - soon we hope - the Inspector will be sent the submissions so that he can consider his previous report. We are working with Bristol City Council to ensure they know what to send him this time, disconcertingly the first draft they sent us to check through again had important documents missing. The wheels of justice continue to move very slowly at City Hall but we aren’t going anywhere and will continue to help them hunt in that long grass! 

28th September ’22 was the deadline set by the Inspector for all parties to submit any additional evidence they wanted him to consider in relation to our TVG applications. There is then 4 weeks to submit our full arguments (26th October), then the objectors have 4 weeks to reply (23rd November) and we have another 4 weeks to respond to them (21st December). Everything is due to be submitted before Christmas 2022.

We submitted an extra file of evidence, bringing our total to six. neither the school nor the council has submitted any evidence against our applications

On 20th July ’22 we received new Directions from the Inspector who is overseeing the TVG applications.  Back in May we submitted five files of evidence and plus answers to some specific questions that he had asked about our applications.  The other parties also made submissions about what should happen next. The Inspector then set out a timetable for written arguments from all parties.

There are three main issues in play - on one (statutory incompatibility) he has given a very clear indication that this won't defeat our application. On another (the ACC signs) it's a case of 'back to the drawing board' because the new evidence we submitted may overturn the conclusion he reached in TVG1. And on the third issue, the burden is on the school and the Council who want to argue that simply because there has been a previous TVG application, this one should not succeed. On all three issues, we have a really strong case and have fought hard to get to this point after the shocking report in March 2021.

Six files of Evidence in support of our TVG: documents spelling out why the fence has to come down. These plus submissions from our KC (King’s Counsel) have all been handed in to the Inspector.

March ’23 - inspector’s report is due

September ’22 - all evidence submitted to the inspector.

Arguments and responses due before Christmas for a decision in the spring

Once the inspector has prepared his report it will have to be considered and the paperwork prepared by the Commons Registration Authority - part of Bristol City Council. The interested parties are given time to respond. The recommendation will then have to be put before the Public Rights of Way and Greens (PROWG) Committee at the next appropriate meeting to make a decision as to whether or not the land will be registered as a Town Village Green - a TVG. Finally registration takes place.

None of this happens quickly, it may even not be as straightforward as this but it’s simply a matter of waiting while wheels turn and knowing that our case is as strong as ever.

Springtime on Stoke Lodge: new life, new beginnings.

Photos sent in by supporters of We Love Stoke Lodge

Agenda papers for the Public Rights of Way and Greens Committee meeting where the case for a TVG will be heard, were published on 20th June ’23.

The whole thing has been a very long and complex process - even these final few weeks have been far from smooth.

In the first TVG the inspector felt that the landowner had ‘acquiesced’ to informal public use until a ruling was made on a case concerning a car park was ruled on and he decided that it was relevant enough to change his mind.

The old signs put up by Avon county council are the issue - are two signs enough? They were for the seven space car park with a single entrance, but are they enough for Stoke Lodge, 200 times bigger with over 30 entrances where all except those two had no signs at all. No residents with gates opening on to the parkland were ever asked to desist from using Stoke lodge or requested to ask permission.

Are they really ‘prohibitory signs? They warn against trespass, they go on to ask that users of the field (so you CAN use it then) don't cause a nuisance by partaking in any of a list of five activities including horse riding! There is case law on this; spoiler alert - a warning is not a prohibition!

Unfortunately, in the report the inspector has ignored or misconstrued vital parts of our evidence, much of it new and vitally important evidence.

This link will take you to the We Love Stoke Lodge homepage.

There are several bite-sized chunks, just a few minutes read each, which do a great job of summarising the main issues relating to the TVG.

We were so taken aback by this that we wrote back and pointed these things out, the inspector then took the unusual step of writing a Note to go with the the report in which he says that he may have misinterpreted the law and that he could have got it wrong about this case. He reminds the PROWG committee that it is up to them to weigh the evidence and make the final decision for themselves.

We feel sure that while the case is huge, long-running and very complex, the evidence we have speaks for itself and once understood forms an incredibly strong case for a TVG.

This video summarises what will be considered by the Public Rights of Way and Greens Committee on 28 June 2018, including the Inspector's Report of March 2023, the applicants' response and his subsequent Note. It refers to evidence and arguments that have been put before Committee members for their consideration, in particular on the two issues that the Inspector says are matters of fact for the Committee to determine.

On 23 June 23 Helen Powell of We Love Stoke Lodge was interviewed on BBC Radio Bristol.

She talked about her thoughts on the upcoming TVG hearing.

Click here to listen

Take a look at our video explaining what this result means and the hopes of We Love Stoke Lodge for the future of this beautiful open space.

  The full meeting was recorded and can be watched here


This case was long and complex with hundreds of pages of legal submissions and several files of evidence. The process had been far from straightforward throughout its five years and was further complicated by issues surrounding it.

We love Stoke Lodge and the community would like to thank all officials present yesterday but especially the committee members who had an enormous amount of reading to do and some very difficult legal issues to contend with - we all appreciate the time and effort that went into preparing for the meeting.

We would also like to thank our ward councillors John Goulandris and Henry Michallat who have offered their support throughout this long process, as well as Darren Jones MP who has likewise offered advice and support throughout - you have the heartfelt gratitude of those who love Stoke Lodge from the neighbourhood and from further afield.

The morning following the PROWG Committee meeting and the positive result, Helen Powell was interviewed on BBC Radio Bristol, listen to what she had to say here.

The other crucial thing to know is that it preserves the balance of use of the field by the school, local sports clubs, and the community - so it gives everyone certainty and preserves the land for future generations, just as it has been for past decades. Our aim is to provide a stronger platform for partnership working between the school, the Council and the community and to restore peaceful coexistence on this historic and beautiful green space. 

At a meeting of the Public Rights of Way and Greens committee on 28th June 2023

the application to register Stoke lodge as a

Town or Village Green (TVG) was accepted

Both sides were given time to present five-minute statements, followed by a few one-minute statements from members of the public.  The committee were advised in this complex case by representation from the Commons Registration Authority - CRA  (part of Bristol City Council) and a senior KC in their discussions, many insightful and pertinent questions were asked and the meeting culminated in the vote:

6 in favour of registration

1 against

2 abstentions.

The process has yet to be formally completed but as soon as that happens Stoke Lodge will officially have Town or Village Green Status and because it is unlawful to enclose a TVG the fence will have to come down.

VG 29

Stoke Lodge was officially registered as a Village Green - number VG 29 on Bristol City Council’s website - after the application was finally presented to the Public Rights of Way and Greens Committee who voted to accept it. The decision was taken on 28th June 2023 after five long years of determined stoicism by Helen Powell and Emma Burgess who headed up the campaign for registration. Achieving TVG status means that the huge eyesore of a security fence has to be removed,  it has been severely restricting community use in breach of the terms of Cotham School’s lease with Bristol City council. Read more about it on the blog.

Despite the registration of Stoke Lodge as a Village Green on 22nd August 2023, and despite knowing the strength of public feeling against the steel security fence which encloses it - illegally so since registration - Cotham School have refused to take any steps to remove the structure. We appealed to the council to uphold the law and enforce their duty as landowner and lessor,  enclosing a Village Green is a criminal offence and both the school and the council are liable. It is something that is prosecutable.

Meanwhile, a letter from the school’s lawyers said that the fence would not be removed because it does not sit on land registered as a TVG! We have decided to show the school and the council how absurd that claim is and how wrong they are to suggest that the enjoyment of the green is not interrupted by the fence. You can help us by signing the petition linked below, please sign and share widely.


Please sign our petition and share across social media.

This video shows there really is a fence on Stoke Lodge Village Green and that alot of people want it removed in line with the law.

“Confused?” she asks.

Yes, we are.

Shocking decision by our turncoat council

to jump the fence and sue itself!

Bristol City Council continues to shock us with its unlawful and undemocratic antics. An unknown officer within BCC has applied to the courts to have BCC’s status changed from defendant to claimant – that’s right, BCC has applied to the court to sue itself over Stoke Lodge!

As you know, Cotham School launched legal action last November to attempt to remove our village green status. That claim currently has three defendants - (1) BCC as the Commons Registration Authority, the CRA (which is taking a neutral position but defending the PROWG committee’s decision to grant village green status); (2) Kathy Welham, on our behalf as the village green applicant and (3) BCC as the landowner and local education authority.

Just before Christmas BCC (as landowner) told us it intended to apply to 'switch sides' and sue itself over a decision that is fully delegated under the constitution to the PROWG Committee. They asked us whether we would consent to this. We maintained confidentiality whilst our barrister prepared our response.  However, without waiting for our response and without following the Council’s constitutional rules, an officer has taken it upon themselves to apply to the court to become a claimant alongside the school. BCC (as landowner) has applied to 'jump the fence' and go against itself (BCC as CRA) and our community!


With the support of our barrister, our response to BCC’s pre-Christmas letter was sent to BCC yesterday in the strongest terms - 11 pages of arguments to challenge this unprecedented, unlawful, unconstitutional, and anti-democratic decision. Of course, the letter requests full disclosure of who made this decision and how it was made. We have also copied in many councillors, the Mayor and our MP to request their support.


We believe that BCC wants to switch sides because they also know that the school’s application to have their costs protected will fail (cost protection = they don’t pay our costs if they lose). The school have sworn they will have to withdraw if they do not get costs protection, so it appears that BCC is looking to piggyback their case and step into the school’s shoes. Cotham School is an academy, wholly independent of the council - but still BCC is proposing to spend hundreds of thousands of our council tax on suing itself and fighting against its own residents.


So, what happens next? On the 24th of January a Judge in the Bristol Court will hold a hearing to decide whether BCC can sue itself. They will also decide at this hearing whether Cotham School will be awarded costs protection. Naturally BCC may see sense before this and withdraw their request – they will be under serious pressure to do so. We will of course send more details about the 24th as we get them.

Your help is more important now than ever – please keep sharing our flyer (attached), talk to your neighbours and friends and ask them for support. Our barrister will support us on the 24th at the hearing but this also costs money so please keep sharing and supporting where you can. No one is going to fight for our village green except us. Without the funds to be able to make our arguments, we can’t be in the room where the arguments get made - so your support is absolutely vital and much appreciated.

Given this shocking news we expect to get lots of press coverage and interest so will shortly be launching a GoFundMe to help capture support from as many people as possible. Please bear with us for updates, we are getting lots of emails and it may take some time to respond.


Finally, a huge thanks to everyone who has donated so far, we are very grateful for your continued support which has enabled us to deal with this appalling decision by our council in the strongest terms. Please keep going! 

Link to our GoFundMe