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If you happen to be swinging round to Epping

Politics / Fri 15th Jun 2018 at 08:55am

A notorious stretch of road in Epping Forest could be experimentally closed to cars to ward off those who head there to go dogging.

The Epping Forest Consultative Committee will be asked to approve the introduction of an experimental 18-month traffic regulation order to close minor roads in the forest to traffic, at a meeting on Wednesday night (June 13.)

If the trial was a success it could see Fairmead Road – known to be a dogging hotspot near the forest’s protected ancient grassy plains – eventually closed to traffic permanently.

The committee, which includes the forest’s governing body the City of London Corporation, has been asked to close more roads around the forest to allow for conservation, more walking, cycling and horse-riding space- and to prevent antisocial behaviour.

Epping Forest’s dogging problem is not new.

In W. Somerset Maugham’s 1897 novel ‘Liza of Lambeth,’ the title character has a dalliance on Chingford Plain.

This “gives a sense of Epping Forest’s long tradition as a place of sexual adventure for some visitors,” according to the Corporation’s previous public consultation on its management of the ancient woodlands.

A previous closure of 700m of Fairmead Road between Epping New Road and Fairmead Oak Car Park, supported by Essex County Council, had been an improvement for the area, the report to Wednesday’s committee said.

The fly-tipping, littering, theft from cars, tree-damage through vandalism, arson and drug-use, and public sex was condensed to a 500m stretch during the road closure.

When the road was monitored last year over 216 days, it was found about a third of vehicles visited at night-time when the carpark was closed.

Background reports provided to the committee outlined Epping Forest’s dogging problem in greater detail, noting the volume of sex-related litter indicated that there was about 12 public sex hotspots.

The absence of street lighting and ability to monitor passing traffic made Fairmead Road a popular destination for public sex, the background report noted, adding it was “heavily promoted” on dogging and swinger websites.

Litter pickers regularly picked up food containers, condoms, drug waste and nitrous oxide containers from the area, with the forest keepers estimating this took up 100 hours a year, at a cost of £4000.

The committee is also set to discuss how it could manage of antisocial behaviour at Wanstead Flat by more regularly cutting back shrubland.

The report said Wanstead Flat’s dense shrubland screened people from being spotted, making it another popular spot for public sex – also attracting drug-use, prostitution, fire setting, fly-tipping and rough sleepers.

The report noted that visitors to the forest could be alarmed if they happen to find people meeting for sex in the area.

The Essex and Metropolitan Police forces had previously adopted guidance from the Association of Chief Police Officers on managing public sex which “seeks to balance the rights of the general public with those of people engaging in consensual sexual activity.”

The police were guided to progress from monitoring complaints, to issuing warnings and trying to prevent public sex, before escalating to arresting anyone.

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