The towpath opposite Henley has been closed without notice. There is no diversion notice and walkers face a confusing situation.
High barriers were erected early on Monday although Henley Festival had only obtained permission for closure from 5.45 tomorrow Wednesday 11 July.
Henley Festival has consent, under section 16A of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, to close the path during the evening on Wednesday to Saturday this week and 11.15am to 3.30pm on Saturday.
The Open Spaces Societyâ€™s local activist David Parry has called for the towpath to be opened immediately.
“The Festival obtained consent from the Government Office South East for a temporary closure order for the path during the performances over five days, starting at 17.45 pm on Wednesday 11 July” reports David. “However, the consent was conditional upon Wokingham District Council, the highway authority, ensuring ‘that the footpath is not obstructed and public safety is not endangered by construction activities when the footpath is open outside the periods of closure imposed by the order’.
“This condition was imposed because of our strong complaint last year when the path was illegally blocked for two extra days during the construction period. But Wokingham Council has breached the condition because the path has, once again, been obstructed during the construction period”, David continues.
“The Festival knew full well that it had no consent to block the path before 15.45 pm on Wednesday 11 July this year, but it pig-headedly went ahead regardless and, by 7.30 am on Monday 9 July, the path was obstructed by a wire fence, vehicles and notices telling people to keep out.
â€˜When we complained to the council, it immediately made an emergency order to close the path on grounds of health and safety. But such orders should only be made when there is a genuine emergency and they normally require a notice to be published seven days ahead. The Festival has known for many months that it planned to carry out construction work here, but made no arrangements for protecting the path and its users. Instead it expects the public to walk an unsightly metal gangway between the metal fences, rather than the lovely route beside the river.
“And Wokingham District Council, which has a duty to assert and protect the rights of the public on public paths, has connived in this malpractice.
“Since the council and the Festival have breached the conditions in the closure order, the Government Office should declare that order null and void. Deplorably, it refuses to do so.
“In blocking the path, the Festival is putting its fine reputation at risk. Its arrogant disrespect of public rights is a self-inflicted slur.”
David adds: “The Open Spaces Society strongly urges it to reopen this much-used path without delay, and only to close it during the periods for which it had authority.”