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Cotham School

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Stoke Lodge Decision

Dear Parents, Carers, Students, Staff, Community and Alumni members

It is with huge disappointment that I write to inform you that following the unexpected and frankly shocking decision of Bristol City Council’s (BCC) PROWG committee on Monday 12 December 2016 our school playing fields at Stoke Lodge are to be registered as a Town and Village Green (TVG).

This is despite the fact that an independently appointed inspector and BCC’s own legal department advised that the fields should not be registered as a TVG.

At the recent public inquiry into the validity of the TVG application, Cotham worked with the University, the City Council as land owner and local community groups, e.g. children and young people’s sports clubs who have used the playing fields to present the case as to why Stoke Lodge should not become a TVG. The school invested an enormous amount of time and resource into the legal process and considered that the outcome of the Public Inquiry would be clear one way or the other.

The school had always hoped for a positive outcome based on our arguments, and indeed the Inspector confirmed the TVG should not be allowed as public use was found to be not  ‘as of right’.

The TVG application was made five years ago. Initially the school tried meeting with TVG campaign members to find a solution that would allow children to use the playing fields for school PE, community sports clubs to use them for organised games, the University to use it at weekends and to provide for the local community for recreational use. Throughout these meetings the campaigners seemed unable to grasp that the school has a duty to provide a safe environment for PE and sport for our students.

In spite of this stance by the campaigners, Cotham School has worked supportively with the Neighbourhood Partnership and supported their proposals to improve parts ofStoke Lodge playing fields for community use since taking on the lease of the land in 2011. One example of this was the installation of a Children’s Play Area on the site.

The TVG applicant is both the chair of the Save Stoke Lodge Parkland campaign and a long standing member of the local Neighbourhood Partnership. Councillor Abrahamis also a long standing member of the local Neighbourhood Partnership. It is our view that this close relationship and the fact that Councillor Abraham is the ward member for Stoke Bishop meant that in the interests of fairness and to avoid any ambiguity, Councillor Abraham should have stepped down from chairing and attending the PROWG Committee. Indeed, we requested this in advance of the meeting. However, Councillor Abraham declined to stand down on the basis that he did not have any conflict of interest, and was open minded on the matter. The school had faith that having raised our concerns about a clear and obvious conflict, that Councillor Abraham, as Chair of the PROWG Committee, would behave fairly and honestly. Sadly, we believe he did not, with disastrous implications for our students and school.

Due to the Inspector’s findings the school has begun the process of planning fencing and a new pavilion to provide an improved safe, secure playing field provision, which we would have shared with all interested local community groups. We now finds ourselves in the devastating position of having no playing fields. We were planning our school’s summer sports programme to include a safe and secure provision using Stoke Lodge. Instead we find ourselves having to spend yet more time and valuable resources to fight this travesty of a decision which is to the detriment of both our current students and those to come in the future.

The school has an excellent relationship with the City Council as land owner and as a leading education provision in Bristol, we hope to maintain this and their support in the next stage of this ongoing situation.

The Governing Body and I would like to thank all of you who have worked so hard to support our students’ entitlement to access our designated school playing fields at Stoke Lodge in a safe and secure manner.

We will now review our position and appeal that the process was not open, fair or indeed honestly managed by Councillor Abraham.

Yours faithfully

Ms Jo Butler
(Headteacher)