Councillors slam plans to erect Private Property signs at access to Priory Gardens
Private Property signs are to be erected at the High Street entrance to Marlborough’s Priory Gardens – a move slammed by Marlborough town councillors last night, who pledged to fight the proposals ‘tooth and nail’.
Housing association Aster, which manages The Priory nursing home, wants to assert its ownership of the pathway and glass tunnel through which the popular amenity is reached.
But the organisation is refusing to include a caveat on the signs that public access is granted through the entrance to the gardens. And it intends to erect a fence – with a gate – at the boundary of its land to further assert its ownership.
Aster is also claiming ownership of the small carpark, accessible from Figgins Lane, which is used by council gardeners, and also by organisers of events including the Jazz Festival. Town councillors were unaware that the now-disbanded Kennet District Council had either transferred or sold ownership of the carpark.
Furious councillors say the Private Property signs will, at best, cause confusion and, at worst, pave the way for Aster blocking public access all together.
Priory Gardens were donated to the former borough council in 1971 by Tomasine Clay, in memory of her husband. They were formally opened to the public in 1972.
The Priory building was erected in 1820, and extended in 1977 to accommodate a care home. Kennet District Council transferred the Priory to Sarsen Housing – now Aster Property – in 1995.
At last night’s (Monday’s) town council meeting, members were told that a resident had fallen on the path leading to the Priory Gardens, prompting Aster to look into liability and ownership issues.
Aster, councillors were told, could find no evidence that the footpath is a right of way.
“After the glass corridor was built (in 1995) no-one made an effort to establish a right of way,” town clerk Shelley Parker told the meeting. “It’s up to us to get that right of way.”
The meeting heard that Aster representatives had confirmed public access would not be stopped.
But that assurance was not enough to stem the anger of councillors, furious that a long-standing agreement was being challenged.
“We asked them to make it clear on the notice that there was access to Priory Gardens, but they said no,” said the clerk.
Councillor Stewart Dobson, who was a borough councillor when the land was gifted, said: “There has been unhindered public access since it was handed over. I’m very disappointed indeed.”
Citing planning applications from Aster Property at Newby Acre, which had caused anger among residents, he said: “Recently, trust in them has been destroyed.”
He also confirmed that the gate a the bottom of Priory Gardens, near the Figgins Lane footbridge over the River Kennet, had been created after the borough council had taken ownership of the amenity. “It only had the entrance from High Street when we took it over,” he said.
Councillor Justin Cook said: “This is something we ought to fight tooth and nail,” while councillor Guy Loosmore said he was “deeply disturbed by this attack.”
Councillor Alexander Kirk Wilson said: “We deeply deplore this,” while councillor Alec Light, an Aster Property tenant who liaises with the housing association on behalf of other tenants, described Aster’s plans as “diabolical.”
Councillor Marian Hannaford-Dobson said she was “deeply shocked”. “We consider them friends; we’ve been stabbed in the back,” she said.
The council voted to insist that the wording of any signage reflect public access to the gardens, agree that work goes ahead to better determine that public access has been established on the path, and continue with legal work to clarify ownership and access rights at the adjacent carpark.
A Marlborough Town Council sign, which is on Aster property, will also be moved further into the Gardens, so that it is on Town Council land.
All councillors voted in favour of the motion, with the exception of Stewart Dobson, who declared an interest as a “£1 shareholder” of Aster, having been “persuaded by Kennet District Council to become a director of Sarsen Housing Association” and Alec Light, who declared an interest as an Aster tenant.
Both withdrew from the voting process, while stating their support for the motion.
A spokeman for Aster told Marlborough News Online this evening (Tuesday): “We are working with Marlborough Town Council regarding proposals we’ve made relating to access between Priory Gardens and Marlborough High Street, via land we own at The Priory, our sheltered housing scheme.
“The proposals we’ve made are to ensure the safety of our elderly and vulnerable customers at The Priory. We have no intention of stopping people using the route in question.”