As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold and schools closed, Cotham School made a shocking announcement. It has LOCKED Stoke Lodge 24/7 until September, in breach of its lease, and has ignored appeals from our MP, from Councillors, and from many members of the public, to change its position. What possible reason does it have for this action? Well, it has offered 4 reasons:
1. Cotham says locking the gates is required by the government. No, it isn't. All over the UK, sports pitches are out of use for team games, but the land isn't closed to the public - in fact government guidance is that exercising once a day within social distancing rules is vital for health and well-being. The guidance now is that you shouldn't drive to exercise somewhere else - so for many local people the locking of the Lodge is a disaster.
2. Cotham says locking the gates is required by its insurer. But the insurer was happy when there was no fence at all. And the school originally promised the gates would only ever be locked when the school was on site, and the insurer must have been happy with that. Add to that the fact that the school has spent significant amounts installing three CCTV cameras to put the empty field under surveillance - how secure does grass need to be?
3. Cotham says locking the gates is required by its landlord. No, it isn't. BCC has made no such requirement and parks and open spaces all around Bristol are open for public use. Bristol needs more open space, not less, so that people can exercise safely!
4. Cotham says it can't justify sending people to lock and unlock every day - and we absolutely agree! So LEAVE THE GATES UNLOCKED! It's cheaper, it's quicker, it's easier, it avoids breaching the lease, it benefits the community without burdening the school at all and fundamentally it's the morally right thing to do at a time of national crisis when we should all be pulling together!
For more info, please watch and share this video.
Cotham School has made a planning application for yet another surveillance camera at Stoke Lodge Playing Fields (in addition to the three it already has in place). This one would be placed near the back north-west corner of the walled car park and according to the application would look down the field to the back of Stoke Paddock Road. However, it is a a'pan and tilt' camera that will also be able to look across the field to the houses on West Dene and Shirehampton Road, to the children's playpark and the area below it, and of course would record activity on the field as well. The camera would be mounted on a pole that is, according to the specification provided by the school, 4-12m in height and 'typically used in prisons and detention centres, railway stations and car parks'. This picture is a composite image of how an 8m pole might look.
There are obviously lots of grounds for objection to this - not least that it is detrimental to the amenity of a listed building (the recently-restored gazebo is listed, as well as the house); it is intrusive of privacy and no attempt has been made to demonstrate a legitimate aim or pressing need; and although the location isn't precise on the application maps, it appears to be directly on a claimed public right of way and is also on TVG application land. For all these reasons and more, objections are flooding in. If you want to make your views known, you have until 2 June 2020. You can go to Bristol Planning Online and search for application 20/01826/F or use this link to easily view objections made already and to link through to the application.
Over just a few weeks in summer 2018, Bristol City Council planning officers performed a dramatic u-turn which allowed Cotham School to put up a 1.5km long, 2m high metal fence around the historic estate of a listed building with no planning application and no landlord oversight.
In doing so, officers turned curtilage land into non-curtilage land and declared that the security fence is 'not a structure'. What was going on behind the scenes? Our three videos let you decide for yourself, on the basis of evidence obtained under Freedom of Information rules.
Part 1: https://youtu.be/-66DIVdZEys (10 mins)
Part 2: https://youtu.be/5DUVV6Vdz7Q (8 mins)
Part 3: https://youtu.be/5sX_uV38Q5E (8 mins)
Please take the time to watch and ask yourself:
· Is it appropriate for a school to write to a council saying they should '...not give the community a chink to pop at'?
· Should a council reverse a 20-year view on curtilage based on entirely inadequate and biased material provided by an interested party?
· Has Bristol City Council retro fitted legal advice to a decision they had already made?
· Do Bristol developers just need political clout and closed doors at City Hall to get what they want?
· Can democracy win the day? What actions could BCC take to rectify this?
The actions of BCC officers are now being investigated by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, following our complaint of maladministration. The process will take several months - we will keep you posted!
When Cotham School arrived at Stoke Lodge, without warning, to build a 2m high, mile long high security fence our amazing community came together at Stoke Lodge to protect many beautiful protected trees. So many people gave up hours on thier time standing in the freezing cold, sleet, snow and rain for over 8 weeks - making a huge difference. One of the fabulous 'tree watch team' is also a great musican - listen to this ! What goes up...WILL COME DOWN.