Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Protest at festival’s plan to shut path

THE Open Spaces Society has once again objected to plans by the Henley Festival to temporarily close the Thames Path

THE Open Spaces Society has once again objected to plans by the Henley Festival to temporarily close the Thames Path in July.

Part of the towpath on the Remenham side of the river is closed each year before, during and after the festival in order for the “floating” stage to be built.

Every year since 1998 the festival has been given permission by Wokingham Borough Council for the temporary closure of the path during the event despite objections by the society, the Ramblers and Remenham Parish Council.

The objectors argue the closure is unnecessary and the festival should rearrange its activities to keep the path open.

Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Henley-based Open Spaces Society, said: “We are dismayed that once again the festival proposes to ride roughshod over the path’s users, who include visitors from this country and overseas as well as local people wanting a quiet walk by the river.

“We have told Wokingham Borough Council that this route, which is of international importance, should not be interfered with merely for a private event.

“The council must ‘have regard to the safety and convenience of alternative routes’ but the proposed alternative route is not a public highway and therefore users do not have the necessary protection.

“The council should say no to the closure and then the festival would have to organise its activities so as to keep the Thames Path open at all times.”

John Halsall, chairman of Remenham Parish Council and also a Wokingham borough councillor, said he believed the festival could take place and the path remain open at the same time.

He said: “The Thames Path is a very important asset used by hundreds of thousands of people throughout the year and should be protected. The borough council is trying to establish a policy for the closure of footpaths, particularly the Thames Path. It’s all a question of balancing freedoms.”

Charlotte Geeves, chief executive of the Henley Festival, said the closure during the build and dismantling was for safety reasons and during the event it was needed to run a successful festival.

She said it was hoped to encourage more people from the community to attend the event so the closure wouldn’t seem such an imposition.

“What we’re keen to do is work with all the local groups to ensure there’s a balance,” she said. “We close it for the minimum amount of time possible. We are not trying to extend the diversion any more than what we require it for.”

Wokingham Borough Council will make a decision on the application in the next few weeks.

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