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Gloucestershire Business News

EXCLUSIVE: A twist in the tale for #gategate?

Two weeks on from a postponed plan to introduce a payment system for parkland access in Cirencester, the gates to the town's park remain wide open - with visitors to the park still finding they can walk in free.

As reported last week in, the new 'paywall' system which seeks to exclude local resident unless they have bought an electronic pass and allows access to other visitors only on a pay-per-visit basis, the change triggered a protest that propelled Cirencester into national news, with more than a thousand people attending a 'mass trespass' at the private park, organised by dismayed local residents and the Right to Roam campaign.

However, after the initial plan stalled with a planned introduction to the gate system failing to launch on the initial planned date of Friday, March 15, a message at the main access point to the 15,300-acre acre green space, which belongs to the Bathurst Estate, now informs visitors that the system has not been turned on "until further notice".

After it was initially reported that the pass system had suffered from a logistic headache in ensuring cards were disributed to those who has signed up, the statement from the estate read: "We will be in touch via email with Pass updates."

As a further update, the estate has now posted a message on its own website which states that the system has been scheduled to come into effect on April 15th, after the Easter break. 

Lala Wilbraham, an author who lives in the shadow of the main gate, told Punchline: "The system is coming... we are sure of that, but from what we know, it has come down to an organisation problem, just getting them all distributed."

She added: "I think people who live here have accepted it as a small price to pay for such a crucial place on our doorstep. The fact remains it's a private park."

Day passes for the park will be £4 for adults and £2 for children while under fives will be free. A family ticket will cost from £6. While local residents need pay only a £10 annual charge, those living outside immediate postcodes will be charged £50 for the same household access, or £30 for an individual. Local college and university students are eligible for an annual £10 card.

The move to introduce charging has led to renewed scrutiny of the history of the park. According to campaigners, the Bathurst Estate has received millions of pounds in farm subsidies in recent years, while its family fortunes stem from the slave trader Benjamin Bathurst, deputy governor of the East India Company and the Royal Africa Company, who bought Cirencester Park in 1695, the park itself being subsequently created by his son.

Jon Moses of the Right to Roam campaign said: "In 1695, the 100,000 slaves traded by the Royal African Company paid an appalling price for the purchase of the Bathurst Estate." He added that their memory should be honoured with reparations, "not new commercial ventures aimed at exploiting people going for a walk."

But according to Ms Wilbraham, local support for the estate's owners is strong: "Lord Bathurst is a kind and attentive man who does a lot for the community. He came to meet the protest and he is a good listener."

Punchline has approached the Bathurst Estate for comment.

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