‘Crushing disappointment’ over sports fields decision

COTHAM School students are having their games lessons at Golden Hill following the registration of Stoke Lodge playing fields as a village green.

The school has told parents the move to the Shine Sports Ground is for this academic year, while it decides what to do about what it describes as the “unfathomable” decision on Stoke Lodge.

Cotham does not have playing fields on its site so children have to be bussed elsewhere for outdoor PE. The school had been using Stoke Lodge, which it leases from the city council, and put up a fence around the fields, with gates that were shut while pupils were on site. Since the decision of the council’s Public Rights of Way Group (PROWG) in June, the gates have been left permanently open.

At a PROWG committee in September, campaigners called on BCC to enforce the removal of the 1.5km long fence 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.”

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.”

Jo Butler, head teacher of Cotham School has declined to respond to requests from the Voice for an interview. 

In a letter to parents, she 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.”