Shock over new twist in village green campaign

Campaigners say they are shocked that Bristol City Council wants to throw its weight behind a legal challenge to the designation of Stoke Lodge Playing Field as a town or village green (TVG).

Last year We Love Stoke Lodge (WLSL) won a five-year battle to get the listing, after tenants Cotham School had built a 1.5km fence around the parkland.

The school has launched a legal challenge to the decision. 

Now it has emerged that the council plans to join the school in trying to get the TVG overturned – effectively challenging its own Public Rights of Way and Greens Committee, which made the designation in June last year.

As the Voice went to print a judge was due to rule on whether Bristol City Council, which is both landlord and Commons Registration Authority, could join Cotham School as a claimant in the case – and so support the legal challenge. 

A WLSL spokesperson said: “Bristol City Council continues to shock us with its unlawful and undemocratic antics. There has never been a level playing field when it comes to Stoke Lodge, but this latest twist is particularly shocking.”

The spokesman said they believe BCC wants to switch sides to help Cotham School, which could face huge legal costs if it loses the court challenge to the TVG status.

They called on the school to halt its legal action and talk to local community groups about shared use of the 23-acre site, which has been enjoyed by locals as open space for 70 years.  

Cotham was using the field for outdoor games but moved these to Golden Hill in September following the TVG decision.

The new development  comes as a row has erupted over removal of large sections of the security fence, which was put up around the land at Stoke Lodge by the school in 2019.

WLSL have welcomed the removal of many fence panels over the Christmas holidays – but denied any involvement in it. 

The spokesperson said: “WLSL is essentially a Facebook group, with over 1500 members. I can’t vouch for the actions of every member, but I can tell you that WLSL is spending all its time and effort making sure that our village green is protected and that the fence has to be taken down through the operation of the law.”

Parts of the fence were brought down by a falling tree, and it’s understood Bristol City Council removed some panels and posts to make the area safe.

More panels came down during early January – resulting in as much as half the fence being down.

WLSL has called on the council to prosecute Cotham School over its refusal to remove the fence. But the council says it won’t take any action until the legal challenge to the TVG status is resolved.

In an apparent leaked email, Nancy Rollason, head of legal services at Bristol City Council, said prosecuting the school would be “premature pending resolution of the matters before the court”.

Cotham School has not responded to approaches from the Voice for comment. 

A Bristol City Council spokesperson said: “The school is challenging the decision by councillors on the Public Rights of Way and Greens Committee in June 2023 to register Stoke Lodge as a village green. The Council, which is also the landowner in this case, continues to support efforts for a binding and conclusive resolution.”