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Gloucestershire Business News

EXCLUSIVE: #Gategate: will Lord Bathurst act on his paywall promise?

The costumed mummers have left, along with 1,000 other placard-waving protestors, and a customary calm now hangs over Cirencester Park after the 3,000-acre estate became the focus for a prime national news story this weekend.

But while the protest to the planned entry fee for the Cotswold town's picturesque park, which has been free for all since 1695, was highly vocal, some of the drama of the mass trespass may have been muted by a technical issue: due to have been activated on Friday, the 'paywall' gates were idle on Sunday, the Bathurst Estate having announced a three-day delay caused by problems issuing new passes for residents and visitors.

But as of today (March 18th) it still hasn't happened: a key visitor attraction close to the main town entrance to the Park at Cicely Hill told that, as of midday, there was no sign of the gates being active, leaving visitors free to enter the grounds.

Have the protestors won? Queries for the Bathurst Estate's media office were being fielded by answerphone today and no reply came to interview requests. 

The ninth Earl Lord Allen Bathurst, who waited at the gate to personally witness the protestors and media, said on Sunday: "The protestors obviously have a right to come in and make their point and their point is very well made and is taken on board."

Victory against the plan would be a prominent feather in the cap for the Right to Roam campaign, which currently is battling on several fronts throughout England, not least a protracted legal contest over access on Dartmoor in Devon.

John Moses of Right to Roam told the crowd on Sunday that the campaign normally reacts to cases of what it calls "microenclosures" of land, but that the move to force payment for access to Cirencester Park was different: "It's three thousand acres here that are going to be taken away from public use."

And while concessions have been offered to local residents, has spoken off-record to businesses in the town who see the change as, to use a collective refrain, an "unhelpful" idea.

One nearby business said: "After the energy costs and the Pandemic, God knows we need every bit of encouragement as a destination. This sudden change isn't it."

Nailsworth resident Andrew Budd travelled to the protest along with many local people on Sunday to make his own views clear. 

Mr Budd, who works as a volunteer at Stroud's District Foodbank, said: "This is the last day we can walk around here without buying a licence from the landowner. I'd say about a thousand people turned up." 

Protestors, he added, would keep their fingers crossed for a potential U-turn.

● In 2000, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act allowed a right to roam over mountains, moorland, heathland, downland and commons, but the Right to Roam campaign group says that this land, about 8% of England, is often surrounded by privately owned land, and therefore remains inaccessible.

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