Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Walkers upset by towpath closure

WALKERS were angered after a section of the Thames towpath was closed during Henley Royal Regatta.

They criticised Upper Thames Rowing Club for shutting the path and diverting people around the Upper Thames Enclosure, just downstream from the clubhouse, rather than along the river.

This meant there was no footpath in front of the River Feast enclosure, run by Jacobs Chase, which rents the land from the club for the event.

The club said the move was a safety measure to prevent a “dangerous” build-up of people on the riverside and had been approved by Wokingham Borough Council.

The new wider path, which went 20m back from the river, sent pedestrians 100m around the 40m section along the river.

Nigel Balchin, from Henley, said: “While everyone else works hard to show Henley and the regatta in its best light, Upper Thames Rowing Club seemed intent on demonstrating the very worst — erecting dozens of truly hideous metal railings that forced visitors away from the river around views of their toilet block and over stones that were a health and safety nightmare for anyone not wearing safety boots.”

Charlotte Clarke, also from Henley, said: “I walked round it wearing trainers but I did feel for the ladies in their finery.”

In a statement, the club said: “In recent years bottlenecks on the towpath during Henley Royal Regatta have made the towpath dangerous at peak times, to the extent that people have ended up in the river and tempers have frayed.

“In hot weather people have passed out and the delays, which can last for up to two hours, have made the towpath unpleasant.

“The emergency services have become increasingly concerned by congestion caused by picnickers sitting on the towpath, effectively blocking the route.

“It is in this context that Upper Thames Rowing Club are trialling a new, wider pedestrian pathway across its land.

“Upper Thames RC incur costs in excess of £30,000 as a result of health and safety provision that has to be provided during Henley Royal Regatta regardless, including footpath lighting, lifeguards, safety boats, first aid, security and marshalling. These costs are compulsory.

“The police and Environment Agency are supportive of anything that improves safety and makes their job easier. We all want the safest possible regatta.”

Wokingham Borough Council said that during the regatta the path reverts to private land so the landowner could do as it wished.

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