Thursday, 19 July 2018

'Commercialisation of meadows is wrong'

COUNCILLORS are concerned about the “commercialisation” of a Henley beauty spot.

COUNCILLORS are concerned about the “commercialisation” of a Henley beauty spot.

Their fears for Mill Meadows were sparked by a request by Henley Canoe Hire to position a mobile exhibition trailer near the River and Rowing Museum throughout April, July and August and at weekends in March, May, June and September.

Speaking at a meeting of town council’s recreation and amenities committee, Councillor Sarah Miller said: “I don’t think it’s in keeping with the meadow and I worry this may be the start of other boating companies coming in.”

Councillor Ian Reissmann said he supported the principle of what the canoe company was trying to do to improve the river in a “new and different way” but said Mill Meadows was a relatively unspoilt area.

“The proposal to commercialise this semi-rural meadow is the wrong approach,” he said. “Everything about it does not belong at Mill Meadows. This is not the way.”

Councillor David Nimmo Smith said there was a balance to be struck between being visible and attracting trade and being “unobtrusive”.

He said: “We’re talking about canoes this year, it may be punting next year — what’s our view going to be on that?

“I’m not against it, I’m just trying to find out if we’re in agreement about the further commercialisation of that area or not?”

Matthew Couling, who runs Henley Canoe Hire, said the company had been going for two years. It would have 20 canoes to hire this year.

They were Canadian open-style canoes suitable for up to four people and the trailer would showcase them. There would be two trailers with the canoes at the lower end of the Mill Meadows car park.

Mr Couling, a qualified paddlesports coach, said: “We offer a selection of carefully crafted one- or two-day excursions for our visitors from our launch point in Henley where, on average, 75 per cent of our advance bookings are from tourists. With a heightened presence on the riverside in Henley, we could promote our canoe business and attract a new audience and bring in more tourism to the town, not just for one day but for an entire season.

“Our current launch point at the south-east corner of Mill Meadows is very popular with local residents and visitors who park in the nearby car park.

“Due to the number of visitors to this location, we are now seeking the approval of the council to create a more visible presence.”

Mr Couling said Ludo Keston, chief executive of the River and Rowing Museum, had no objections to the trailer.

“I’m looking to blend in as much as possible with what’s around rather than it having too much of a visual impact,” he said.

Councillors also objected to the idea of flagpoles and banners alongside the towpath in Mill Meadows during the summer.

A report to the committee said: “There is currently no welcome signage at the main gateway/entrance points to Henley. The riverside boundary on the eastern side of Mill Meadows marks a gateway into Henley via the river and the towpath walks.

“This distinct change in the use of the river and Mill Meadows can cause a lack of connectivity with the amenities of the town centre so flags welcoming audiences and visitors, emblazoned with Henley Town Council branding, interspersed with flags promoting local events and festivals, would create a sense of occasion and enhance the atmosphere and celebratory aspects of this season.”

The cost of the proposal would be almost £4,000.

Councillor Kellie Hinton said she was against the idea on costs grounds.

Cllr Nimmo Smith said: “It’s actually of no cost to the town council if the money can come from another source.

“I don’t necessarily want flagpoles but I want something down there. If this discussion is a way of getting that I’ll go along with it at this stage.”

The committee agreed both issues should be discussed by the council’s parks working group.

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