The Henley-based Open Spaces Society, Britain’s oldest national conservation body, has objected to plans by the Henley Festival to close the Thames Path National Trail during the event which runs from Wednesday 11 July to Sunday 15 July 2018
Every year the Festival applies to Wokingham Borough Council, the highway authority, for the temporary closure of the path during the Festival, and the council has agreed. The Open Spaces Society, Remenham Parish Council, the Ramblers and others have consistently objected because the closure is unnecessary. The organisations argue that the Festival should rearrange its activities to keep the path open.
Says Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society: ‘We are dismayed that once again the Festival wants to shove walkers off the Thames Path National Trail. These walkers include visitors from all over Britain and from overseas, and they come here for a quiet walk by the river. Instead they are pushed around the back of the marquees with no view of the river at all.
‘And in 2018 the Festival is seeking an additional four hours closure on the Saturday morning, a popular time for walkers. We have been given no justification for the extra hours, nor indeed for closing the path at all. For many years the Festival operated successfully without closing the path for such long periods.
‘We have told Wokingham Borough Council that the Thames Path National Trail, 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 only alternative highways are ones which result in people walking a considerable extra distance, or risking Remenham Lane which is longer and dangerous.
‘The council should be bold and say no to the closure. Then the Festival would have to organise its activities so as to keep the Thames Path open at all times,’ says Kate.
Charlotte Geeves, Director of Henley Festival responded: “The Festival puts a diversion in place for health and safety reasons throughout the build and de-rig of the main stage which is a necessary requirement and protects the general public. The footpath is then opened up during the daytime and only diverted 15 minutes prior to gates opening for the Festival’s public ticketed event. The towpath is then opened up as soon as the Festival is finished each evening. In addition to this the towpath is diverted during the Family Sunday public ticketed event and we have requested it to be diverted over lunchtime on Saturday afternoon as we will be hosting Henley Symphony’s Orchestra’s summer concert. This event will also be a public ticked event.
The Henley Festival is a not for profit organisation and are supporting the Teenage Wilderness Trust and the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust through our grant programme.”