A PASSIONATE Cotswold District councillor criticised the Bathurst Estate's controversial Cirencester Park decision at a fiery public meeting this week. 

Paul Hodgkinson, cabinet member for health, leisure and culture at CDC, addressed the bustling audience at a packed public meeting in Cirencester Ashcroft Church on Wednesday, March 13 and said that he, along with the rest of the cabinet, strongly opposes the introduction of passes at Cirencester Park.

The meeting was chaired by Jon Moses, from campaign group Right to Roam, who has also organised a protest that is due to start at 11am at the Cecily Hill entrance to the Grade 1 listed parkland on Sunday, March 17.

This reaction has been provoked by the estate's decision to put electric pedestrian gates on the four main entry points into the park meaning that all visitors will need a pass, which vary in price, to access its grounds.

The gates were due to be activated on Friday, March 15 but due to delivery issues with passes this has been postponed. 

Bathurst Estate, who own and manage the park, says the passes will support the restoration of the park's Broad Avenue and help fund general maintenance of pathways, woodlands, grasslands and monuments.

At Wednesday's meeting, Cllr Hodgkinson articulated the importance of free access to the countryside for residents' mental and physical health and said that he would write to the estate to express the council's resistance against this change.

Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard: Cllr Hodgkinson Cllr Hodgkinson (Image: Liberal Democrats)

Cllr Hodgkinson said: "I live in Perrott's Brook, just north of Cirencester, and I am a regular user of Cirencester Park.

"I am cabinet member for health, leisure and culture - three things which I think link very strongly to Cirencester Park.

"There is nothing better for health and wellbeing than free access to the countryside, free access to fresh air, and free access to green space - it is so important.

"I have spoken to my colleagues on the council cabinet and the leader of the council Joe Harris and he has given me the right tonight to say that we absolutely oppose what is happening with Cirencester Park.

"I believe that we have to stand up against this, we on the council will do so on your behalf.

"I will write a letter to the Bathurst Estate, if you want me to, opposing this.

"I think people power could change the estate's mind here.

'I don't believe this is fair, I don't believe it is right and I don't think it respects local people in this community."

His speech was followed by lots of clapping and nods of appreciation from the audience.

However, one resident stood up and pointed out that CDC was the planning authority that approved the installation of the electric gates in the first place.

In response to this, Cllr Hodgkinson said he was not on the council during this time period.

Bathurst Estate representatives were invited to join the panel at this meeting but decided to send the organiser a written statement instead.

The statement said: "We do not receive any public funding for Cirencester Park.

"The fee for visitors from further afield will contribute in part to the protection of the natural capital and wildlife within this unique parkland now and for future generations to enjoy, along with the maintenance and upkeep of the visitor facilities.

"We understand the importance of, and many benefits of, being able to enjoy the natural environment and the countryside.

"The access passes relate to the section of parkland around Cecily Hill, Windsor Walk, Queen Anne’s Monument and Pope’s Seat.

"Over recent years we have introduced additional permissive walks through Hailey Wood.

"These walks, in addition to the woodlands in the Sapperton Valley to the west of the estate continue to be accessible without a pass, therefore still include many miles to roam.

"We are unable to answer questions this evening but would be more than happy to take questions back to the estate team and respond accordingly."