On the 21st October the Head Teacher at Cotham School sent us a letter to inform us of a shocking and bizarre decision. She says ‘We have also become aware of your organised and concerted efforts by local people to wear down routes across the playing fields. These have now made the site uneven and potentially dangerous to our students when playing sport. I will therefore be closing the playing fields for as long as it takes to repair the damaged grass areas. This is necessary to ensure the safety of our students but is clearly additional and unnecessary expenditure….’
I happened to be on the field when the Head Teacher’s email came through, so I took a close look, lots of video and photos. These photos show what we assume to be the uneven and potentially dangerous ‘routes’! As you can see there really is no comparison between these two routes and the significant wearing of the grass by the school & Cotham Tigers.
Lodgers have walked paths across the field for over 70 years, but the fence means they are less trodden today than they have ever been. The school has been playing sports on uneven ground for months - so why this excuse now? It beggars belief that the school is now trying to use this light footfall as an excuse to continue to lock us all out... now indefinitely.
We all know how naturally uneven the ground is across the area used by kids for sport, exacerbated by the huge ruts and divots the school’s diggers created during the fence build - that still remain today.
This is the worst excuse so far from the school for breaching the terms of their lease and breaking their promises.
This letter also contained hurtful, unfounded and false accusations and misinformed statements on other matters which is both hugely disappointing and very poor timing. We have, of course, replied to some of the points raised in the letter setting out the facts on a number of issues and reminding the school of its responsibilities under the lease. A copy of both are provided below.
As you know our Mayor Marvin Rees has asked the school to meet to talk on a number of occasions and the School finally agreed to meet with Marvin, myself and Helen this Thursday. Yesterday’s letter certainly doesn’t help set the right tone nor align to Marvin’s kind invitation for 'a genuine attempt to listen to each other and see what can be possible'.
We very much hope that when the Head Teacher realises she has been misinformed about these ‘routes’ and that there is no damage and nothing to repair; and also reflects on the many promises made by the school to the Council about maintaining public access, she will retract her decision.
We also still remain hopeful that when we meet this Thursday it will be the start of a new journey for the school and our community – we will let you know when we have any more news. We don’t know if the gates will or won’t be open this week or during half term next week – but I suppose, excuse or no excuse, we are getting used to that…
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.