School wins battle to have footpath closed to public
A CONTROVERSIAL footpath running through a school has been permanently shut to the public.
The battle over Geasons Lane in Plympton has waged for more than 30 years between Ridgeway School, residents and access campaign groups, but has now come to a head and received a mixed reaction.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs held a public inquiry to decide the application made by Ridgeway School to close the footpath which runs through its grounds.
Ridgeway School staff and governors are now "delighted" to have received the decision.
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Headteacher John Didymus said: "This is a triumph for common sense. For 30 years successive headteachers and governing bodies have tried and failed to close this footpath which has offered full access to persons of ill intent right into the heart of our school. Over the years thousands of Ridgeway School parents, students, staff, governors and local people have petitioned to close it.
"Every agency with expertise in health and safety or child protection has supported successive attempts to close the footpath and we are delighted on behalf of them all that the planning inspector understood the issues and has confirmed the order.
"I do understand the arguments raised by opponents of this decision but these cannot take precedent over the fundamental issue that it is expedient for the purposes of protecting pupils or staff from violence, harassment, alarm or distress arising from unlawful activity, or any other risk to their health and safety arising from such activity.
"My only regret is that it has taken so long. I extend my sincere thanks on behalf of the school to all those who have supported this just cause over many years and welcome the opportunity to both secure the site and develop the environment for the benefit of our school community."
However campaign group the Open Spaces Society is "deeply disappointed" that the path is to be closed.
Objectors said that the path is well used by local people to gain access to community facilities such as the library, meeting hall and swimming pool.
They also said the route was a quieter, reasonably direct and shorter alternative to the public roads that run alongside or close to the school.
They said the alternatives are along busy roads with narrow pavements.
John Emery, a member of the Open Spaces Society who appeared as an objector at the inquiry, said: "We are deeply disappointed by this decision.
"The path through the school grounds is popular and a much better route than the circuitous alternative.
"We do not consider the school has taken the necessary action to make the site secure and we suspect that closing the footpath will not help the school's security, while putting the public to great inconvenience.
"The population of Plympton has lost a valuable asset."
The Herald reported last year how Jane Coath, from Plympton, said she relies on a motorised wheelchair and "felt strongly" that Geasons Lane should remain open.
A spokeswoman from Plymouth City Council said: "The application for an extinguishment order was made to Plymouth City Council in 2009, under rarely used powers available only to schools.
"While the majority of people who made representations supported the application, a number of local people objected so the Council's Planning Committee referred the matter to the Secretary of State last year.
"The public inquiry allowed all interested parties to set out their views to an independent inspector, who has now made a decision on whether or not the footpath should be shut."
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