Wednesday, 17 August 2022

Council divided over plans to fence off field used by school

COUNCILLORS are divided over plans to fence off a green space in Benson.

The village’s primary school wants to re-fence its playing field to enclose it completely because of dogs fouling the area and to “safeguard” children, a special parish council meeting heard last week.

The playing field, off Oxford Road, belongs to the trustees of the Benson Church of England Voluntary School Trust and is for the benefit of the adjacent primary school.

The school wants to fence the field this month so that for the summer months the children will have a cleaner, safer area for play and sport.

But some councillors say the area has been used for decades by villagers and should remain totally accessible.

The fenced area would not include the adjacent basketball court, next to the youth hall.

Ian Leppard, a former parish councillor who lives in High Street, said: “I’ve been in the village for 50 years and it’s always been a green open space.

“It would be a shame if that cannot be used in general — we need all the green spaces we can for the kids. They (the school) can go out and fine dog owners for letting them spoil the land, but just to fence it off and stop Joe public getting in there is the easy way. It would be too much trouble to do it any other way.

“Is it going to be locked up? Is there a footpath going across there?”

Mr Leppard said the field was a well-used and popular place for events and for villagers to enjoy.

But parish councillor Claire Robinson said the original conveyancing of the land deeds stated the field was purely for the benefit of children of Benson primary to use for their interests and no other.

A fence in a conservation area can be up to two metres tall, unless next to a footpath or road, then it can only be one metre, she said.

Councillor Robinson added: “As far as I can tell, if there isn’t any other agreement for that playing field, it’s for the interests of the children and they can fence it off.”

Councillor Michael Winton said it had been used for a number of years and questioned the definition of the children of the school. He said: “There are pupils there who all join the cubs and scouts and they are still children of Benson Primary School.

“There are other organisations who are part of that school and the children of the school should be able to use it outside of the hours 9am to 4pm. What happens in summer? Do they close it down? What happens when balls go over there?

“I’ve no objection to it being fenced off, it’s the lack of access.”

Interim chairwoman Patricia Baylis said: “The school is saying the school office can be contacted to arrange use and access.”

Councillor Philip Murray said he was against the plans but if the council took a “truculent” attitude it would probably get nothing.

“Essentially we don’t want, any of us, to walk down Oxford Road, and feel there’s a ghettoised area in there,” he said. “We can certainly make the thing more palatable. I think we’re 90 to 95 per cent certain they own it.”

If the council chose to fight the plans it would be using the arguments of precedent and usage, two of the “weakest” in a court, he said. “We’re up against one of the big pile driver mechanisms at the moment which is safeguarding — everything gets through on safeguarding,” he added.

Councillor Rob Jordan believed the area should be fenced off adding: “I don’t think we have got a legal case at all.

“We’re being held to ransom by the minority of dog owners, who just let their dogs go.”

He added: “The headteacher is saying there will be access.”

Members agreed to arrange a meeting between councillors, the school and the church trustees once additional paperwork relating to the land had been located.

Last May the Henley Standard reported that concerns had been raised about people letting their dogs foul the field.

The trustees said the area was not a public playground but it had been “reasonably relaxed” about dog walkers using it until now.

They said: “Sadly, there has been an increasing problem with dogs being walked across, or worse, being allowed to run free without any attempt to clear up their mess.

“This is not acceptable, given the field’s principal use as the primary school playing field.”

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