Sunday, 15 December 2019

Campaigners ask festival not to shut footpath again

Campaigners ask festival not to shut footpath again

A CAMPAIGN group has opposed an application to close part of the Thames Path for next year’s Henley Festival.

The Open Spaces Society says normal access should be retained so people can enjoy walking along the river.

The festival, which has applied to Wokingham Borough Council, the highways authority, says it would be impossible to set up the “floating” stage, where the main acts perform, without a temporary diversion.

Since 1998 part of the towpath has been diverted before, during and after the festival to allow for construction of the stage. While it is being built, walkers are sent about 15m off the path for about 80m around the construction site.

The society, which is based in Henley, has objected every year, saying the closure is unnecessary and the alternative route is unpleasant.

General secretary Kate Ashbrook said: “Once again the festival plans to ignore the public interest and shove walkers on to an inferior route away from the river.

“This is the Thames Path National Trail, which is visited by walkers from all over the country and from overseas. The path is of international importance.

“The law requires the council to ‘satisfy itself that it is not reasonably practicable for the event to be held otherwise than on a road’.

“We do not see why the festival has to be held on the footpath. We urge the council to take a robust stance this time and ask the festival to rearrange its activities to avoid this very special footpath.”

Nick Mattingley, who became the festival’s chief executive last month, said diverting walkers was important to ensure their safety.

He said: “It’s a matter of health and safety. We are required to keep the public and our operators safe.

“It would not be practicable to install the stage if we did not have a diversion in place. We would not be able to complete the build in time.

“It’s quite a large build in a very short space of time and requires quite heavy machinery.”

Next summer, the diversion would be in place on and off for eight days.

It would be in place for the stage build from Monday to Wednesday, July 6 to 8, ending at 5.45pm daily. During the festival itself, walkers would be diverted further away to the rear of the site.

This would be apply from 5.45pm to midnight on Wednesday and Thursday, July 8 and 9, from 5.45pm to 1am on Friday, July 10, from 10.45am to 2.45pm and 5.45pm to 2am on Saturday, July 11 and from 10.15am to 2.15pm and 5.45pm to 11.30pm on Sunday, July 12.

The diversion would also be in place while the stage was dismantled on Monday and Tuesday, July 13 and 14.

Mr Mattingley said he would be happy to contact the society about its concerns, adding: “It’s something we will continue to look at.”

The council is due to make a decision at a meeting on January 30.

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