A fierce row has erupted between Oxford University Boat Club and a
conservation group over a swing-bridge footpath by the River Thames.
The Open Spaces Society, a national conservation body that seeks to “create and conserve common land, village greens, open spaces and rights of public access”, has attacked proposals by the Boat Club to divert the Thames Path over the swing bridge at Wallingford.
They have claimed that doing so would leave the footpath “at risk of interference and closure” and have attacked the “bloody arrogance” of the Boat Club’s plans.
Christopher Hall, Oxfordshire representative for the Open Spaces Society, has denied OUBC’s legitimate claim to the land.
He claimed that the OUBC boathouse built in 2007 was placed “illegally and without permission” over the official route of the Thames Path.
He condemned the actions of OUBC as arrogant and damaging to one of the country’s “most popular long distance trails”. He stated:
“The Boat House has come and put up a new building across the right of way of one of the most popular long distance trails in the country, and forced everybody using it to put up with their arrangements.
“In my book that is bloody arrogance.”
However, OUBC spokesman Steve Royle has denied that the buildings were constructed illegally. He has insisted that OUBC was “granted all the necessary permissions” to construct the new boat house.
Steven Corrigan from South Oxfordshire District Council has defended the Boat Club, stating that he was “satisfied” that users of the Thames Path could walk through the boathouse if they wished.
Despite this option, most walkers now choose to walk in front of the
building and use the bridge which was built at the same time as the new boathouse and crosses a small inlet from the boathouse to the river.
It is accessible to walkers at all times, apart from when the river floods and the bridge must be swung open to allow rowing boats and motor launches to pass through.
However, Mr. Hall has declared that the Boat Club’s insistences that the bridge is only used infrequently were “not good enough” and stressed the potential long-term implications of diverting the path. He said:
“The society is concerned about the long-term future of the path.
What happens if the club’s premises change hands and a commercial marina takes over with more frequent use of the bridge?”
Mr Royle responded by saying that Mr Hall’s concerns for “people 200 years
from now” were “admirable”, but insisted that “common sense needs to prevail”.
Colin Smith, President of OUBC, also spoke out to defend the necessity of the bridge. He described it as “absolutely fundamental” to the function of the boathouse.
The Boat Club submitted an application to divert the Thames Path away from
its buildings and over the bridge in September 2005.
The District Council accepted the application and made an order in April 2007, but has faced serious opposition from the Open Spaces Society.
The society has insisted that the order to divert the path onto the swing bridge should contain “binding conditions” that will remain in force under any future ownership of the land.
Such conditions must, they claim, limit the times and lengths of opening the bridge.
Mr. Smith has declared that such proposals are “preposterous” and insisted that the bridge is only used when absolutely necessary. He said:
“The bridge is designed to negate the ill effects of flooding.
It’s a big effort to use the bridge – we don’t use it willy-nilly.
I can’t see how [the proposals] are going to help anybody.”
The District Council plans to hold talks between the affected parties in the coming weeks. The dispute will then be referred to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who will make a final decision.