Coopers Meadow and all that Jazz…………
Coopers Meadow has been operating for the last few years in breach of its conditions whilst having an enclosed fence up. MTC (Marlborough Town Council) nor ARK (Action for River Kennet) or WC (Wiltshire Council) for that matter have picked up on this. Recently in a A&OS (Amenities and Open Spaces) meeting it was noted by Councillor Stewart Dobson that we may well have been in breach of our conditions and we should take the grazing off the meadow until this was fixed. Next a local press & social media campaign unfolded started by local community groups with the narrative of "Keep the sheep".
Once the lease was looked at by the Town Clerk and Wiltshire Council legal officers it was decided that technically the lease was breached due to it having a structure erected (fence) and as such not being fully open to the public and indeed the play equipment was a requirement of the meadow. This is fact.
The lease also made clear that no benefit in kind should be attributed to any third party using Coopers Meadow and as the lambs at least are grazed for free by Grove Farms on the Meadow and slaughtered for sale through ARK, this is benefit. This is Fact.
Also no mention of Public Liability Insurance was made so if a child injured themselves in the meadow who covers the insurance? The animals may well be insured but the liability if injury happened as a non-result of the animal’s involvement then falls to either MTC or ARK. With no clarity on this subject it could also be a major issue. This is Fact.
Water meadows are not really the ideal place for grazing as it can give the sheep Scald or foot rot due to the constant wetness associated with water meadows. Some residents from Town Mill and Kennet Mews have called the RSPCA and noticed them (see letters page from Gazette & Herald 23 December from Jane Condon) that the sheep were not well and were on their knees. Grove Farms came and collected the sheep and the two lambs were identified as lame. This does not prove in any way that the sheep had Scald or foot rot and personally I would have thought not but they were lame and that is a fact and can't be ignored as animal welfare has to be paramount. I have seen the original letter of complaint from the town mill resident and the corresponding confirmation of complaint made to animal welfare officer at WC. This is Fact.
The lease obviously at this point is not fit for purpose and so needs to be dealt with. The obvious narrative that was spun on social media and press just focused on the grazing issue and the "bad council" narrative and not the truth nor facts. The usual suspects of course came out in force and used it as an excuse to do the same old dance settling scores with serving councillors and causing division within the community. There were about 300 likes and a petition of just under a 1,000 signatures. It is worth noting that the poll ran by the Gazette and Herald had to be suspended due to voting inconsistencies, take that as you will.
There are approx. 7,000 residents living in the Marlborough parish and so I think before people make decisions and sign petitions it’s very important they have all the information about the subject to hand so they can decide their own narrative, not just selected messages that suit selected purposes for the selected few.
There were many different things to think and talk about on this matter and so happily we now as a council have made the decision to apply for a CAT (Community Asset Transfer) giving Coopers Meadow back to the town and its people. This will allow the Town Council to take full ownership ensuring the whole community can benefit from it including ARK and other community groups within the town.
The Town Council are in the process of applying for a grazing license from Wiltshire Council as there has been none in place for the last 2 years or so after the initial trial grazing license was granted for 1 year expired. The only legal and binding grazing license given for Coopers Meadow can only be given by Wiltshire and no one else. This is fact.
The land management plan for Coopers Meadow is now going back to the Amenities and Open Spaces committee of the Town Council where it will be looked at again to make sure that the wording pleases everybody and includes everybody. Once the Community Asset Transfer comes back to the Town council we can then issue our own grazing rights to community members and organisations including ARK.
Also ensuring safety for community group(s) access that can be correctly risk assessed and then the community is covered by third party liability insurance. I think that this is a much better and secure footing for the future of Coopers Meadow with the people of the town having the right to roam in the space without feeling awkward that they are upsetting anyone. Richard Beale the Town Council Estate manager hit the nail on the head the other night at the Town Hall meeting by simply explaining that kids with mums wanting to walk along the river bank is perhaps opposite to what ARK require as they are conserving the river bank. This is another reason why Richard and his team should manage the meadow to make sure its equal access for all in Coopers Meadow that is fair and equitable for all.
The Town Council’s grounds estate team are also vastly qualified within land management and with Richard Beale at the helm I feel very confident that all community groups including ARK can get equal and fair access to the public facility.
ARK are a fantastic organisation and have done wonders for Stonebridge Meadow including the river habitat and the water vole and improving the stock and using the meadow as a fine educational tool also for the younger members of our local schools and long may this continue.
They have also done a great job on the River Kennet that flows through the Coopers Meadow and long may their involvement continue on the River Kennet and its banks. I must stress though ARK should focus on their River Kennet work as that is their core business and the clue is in the name!
Responsibility of any local public council amenity land management should always fall under the remit of our experienced estate team working for the Town Council.
I personally voted against the grazing the other night again due to us not having a license in place yet and as such it’s not legal to do so right now and thought it prudent to follow my head on a legal matter verses my heart and I stand by this without my head being hung in shame, which judging by some social media narratives about naming and shaming councillors votes seems to be the next level of attempted intimidation towards serving councillors and it seems again the usual suspects trying to settle some old and irrelevant score that ultimately detracts from the Town Council getting on with the business of running the town for all the residents.
Having been born in Marlborough I feel a strong love and affinity for the place and will always be looking out for her best interests and in turn that means the best interests of you, the public who live here. I loved the level of public engagement in the “Keep the sheep” campaign and so this gives me heart that with all of the upcoming important issues facing the town the public involvement will be strong and we will make future challenging decisions together for the good of all.
The above views are my own personal views and in no way represent the Town Council as a body corporate.
Love and Light for you all in 2015.
Justin L Cook