‘Should the scouts be allowed to use the area as they see fit?’ This is a question expecting the answer ‘yes’, as any pollster will tell you.
However, the answer to the question is NO. The reason is not mean-mindedness or anti-scout sentiment, but the law.
It was Rogate Parish Council itself in 1970 that protected this land by registering it as a village green. Registration is not a subversive ploy by nasty ‘objectors’ but a sensible, free and legal way of avoiding expensive litigation and thwarting any attempts to spoil or fence off any area.
Many parish councils take advantage of this legislation. Instead, the present Rogate Council in 2008 virtually gave away nearly three acres of public land held in trust. The costs have not been charged to the community as has often been alleged, but were covered by insurance.
However, the duty to protect public land does not seem to have been learned.
A village green is set aside for the people of the village subject to strict conditions. Any other users like the scouts are simply ‘guests’. This is where the misunderstanding has arisen.
Even residents cannot use the land ‘as they see fit’ if it infringes the rights of other inhabitants, and nor can anyone else.
Neither the Mid&Pet article nor the petition made any reference to this.
It is significant the petition was organised by residents living at the far end of the village completely safe from any danger or damage. How many of those that signed the petition, living miles away, had any idea of the on-ground situation?
If they had known how the site is embedded in the woodlands of Fyning Hill Estate, they might perhaps have understood our motives were conservation and care?
The petition stated ‘...we would like the scouts to continue their occasional use of Fyning Recreation Ground...’
I would have signed the petition myself if the organisers had had the courtesy to ask me, and so would all the ‘objectors’.
Why didn’t they ask us? There is no disagreement about the scouts’ continued ‘occasional use’.
I am at a loss to understand why the organisers saw this as such an important cause. All that effort going door to door... !
I came to Rogate in 1973 and have never seen anything like it.
They could have campaigned for famine in East Africa, or even raised funds for our own youth. As it is, all it has achieved is an excess of righteous indignation, divided the village, probably put the land at hazard and deterred the scouts from ever camping there again.
The issue was the fire-pits. Over the years the five fire-pits have disintegrated and been mostly removed. They were no longer justified for ‘occasional use’ (20 days per year).
In any case, with greater public mobility and climate change, such facilities are no longer safe. Virtually no official scout camp allows them.
It was tentatively suggested any new permanent fire-pits could be located much more safely on a corner of the village playing fields – away from woodland and homes. That was immediately howled down.
At the recent parish council meeting, the scout representative agreed with me the area is no longer properly supervised after the death of the parish councillor who undertook that duty.
Perhaps some of those who signed the petition can offer their services?
What remains of the fire-pits is being used irresponsibly by non-scouts, leaving behind all sorts of debris harmful to children and wildlife.
Any new fire-pits will increase this activity, and a search for fuel will result in burning of whatever comes to hand. (Page 18 of July 21’s Mid&Pet has a long article about irresponsible behaviour and the dangers of fires in the countryside.)
The parish council has now recognised the fire risk and set in place excellent new fire-safety regulations but after all this publicity, how can they control unauthorised access? How can abusive, drunken intruders or ‘high’ drug-users be excluded?
Perhaps for a start the parish council can make sure there is no vehicular access. Rather importantly, the access track is itself registered as a green, and strict regulations also apply to its use.
The scouts are welcome and all the people of the village. However, I am afraid none of us, scouts or villagers, will ever again enjoy the safety and tranquility we once knew – nor will the wildlife.
All this because too much ego, too little legal understanding, endorsed by misleading comments in the village magazine, triggered uninformed and precipitate action, and media attention. Rows make good newspaper copy, but destroy community well-being.
Alas, poor Rogate...