Letter to the Editor: More hurdles for Harlow horse riders

Politics / Thu 21st Sep 2023 at 06:35am

Dear Editor,

OUR request to allow horse riding in Harlow Woods has been well documented by Your Harlow and for those who are new to this, the headline is that to allow access to Harlow Woods Natural England are required to approve amendments to the Woodland Management Plan.

Following a site visit in June to inspect horse riding damage (at the request of council officers) Natural England have confirmed to us in writing that there is only a minor concern over poaching, which is the widening over paths as users avoid uneven ground caused by external factors such as bikes, buggies and horses.

You can therefore imagine our frustration on that our DSAR (Direct Subject Access Request) response shows repeated claims from council officers to councillors that the cost to accommodate horse riding is unachievable yet when pushed at Cabinet on the 7th September Cllr Purse had to confirm that no meeting with Natural England has actually taken place to ascertain costs.

Both Councillor Swords and Councillor Purse have gone on the record to say that we would be invited to the meeting with Natural England to explore whether riding could be allowed – Cllr Swords in his email to us on 17th July and Cllr Purse in my question to her at cabinet on 13th July and 7th September.

It’s a shame the yourharlow.com video from 7th September cuts just short of the nod from Cllr Purse that gives her confirmation that we are invited, but it’s interesting to note that at the 2.02 minute mark on the video (just as Cllr Purse is being pushed for an answer) Cllr Swords can be seen to shake his head and mouth something in the direction of Cllr Purse. I’ll leave it to your readers to draw their own conclusions about what he may have said… Did he know something we didn’t, as fast forward one week and we have now been excluded from the meeting by Simon Freeman, deputy CEO for Harlow Council who has emailed to say only council officers and Natural England will be invited.

 So, having waited for two months for the promised meeting, what we are left with is a meeting where:

  •  it was agreed on multiple occasions, in public and documented in writing that we were invited to but have now been excluded from.
  • the balance of opinion in the room will be with council officers who have a documented disinterest in discussing or allowing the activity to be considered and have actively sought to reject the request.
  • the key stakeholders petitioning for change are excluded from the process and have no opportunity to make their own suggestions for how the council and the horse-riding community could work collaboratively to allow hacking whilst protecting the SSSI

Had we been invited to the meeting we may have directed the council to the page 57, section 8.23 of the scientific paper that they have used as their data source for rejecting the request, which proposes that you could  “….lay dead branches horizontally to the soil, which accelerates soil stabilisation by reducing erosion…” as one of many possible cost effective measures that could be undertaken to support approving the activity.

We may have also pointed out to the officers in question who had previously stated in an email “…there has been no analysis which would likely satisfy Ed Wilson who will probably want a scientific breakdown…” that I feel it is wholly reasonable to expect scientific evidence when discussing a site of scientific interest and when they have been more than happy to quote scientific evidence to us when it supports their view.

We could have even offered to help fund any costs that may be incurred – The simple fact is that not one council officer or elected official has actually sought to ask.

Its difficult to believe that this meeting is anything other than an opportunity to be ‘seen to be doing the right thing’ rather than actually doing the right thing because council officers and elected officials seem unable to act transparently and with integrity. They could change that view with one invite – sadly for us, the ball is firmly in their court, and I sense that the reason for excluding us is because the meeting might actually confirm that this can be done… and at an achievable cost.

Yours sincerely

Edmund Wilson

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7 Comments for Letter to the Editor: More hurdles for Harlow horse riders:

Kim Oconnor
2023-09-21 07:44:10

No surprises, you were not invited. The green party was not allowed in on the last consultation for the river stort valley, at Herts... A lot of theses things are decided behind closed doors.. and should not be, after all its the public that keep them sitting there... I all so carnt believe, that this discussion is even being made, we have had horse riding for centuries, they do not damage woodlands, humans do that all by them self's.. If they put a stop to this,, they will have to realise, it will be theses people forcing you into the roads,, and no body wants that..

2023-09-21 08:54:14

This is so disappointing to say the least after all the efforts being made to work in a collaborative way with the council. It’s been one knock back after another, the lies and u turns just keep coming!! Let’s hope the meeting is minuted acutely! The young riders have already lost a summer of safe hacking which is disgraceful, shame on these people sitting there making decisions!!

Nicholas Taylor
2023-09-21 10:27:48

Edmund, the response and actions of Councillors and officers at HDC come as no surprise to members of the Harlow Alliance Party, such actions are the very reason why the Party was set up in 2018. Until such time as enough residents come out and vote for candidates not from the Conservative and Labour Party nothing will change. I hope that given the chance next May all of those parents affected by this debacle will come out and vote for a candidate from another Party.

Kay Cartwright
2023-09-21 11:12:38

Such a blatant cover up, behind closed doors decisions are typical of a corrupt council! Children’s lives are at stake here and they carry the responsibility to ensure all children are safe in their chosen recreation. To ignore the fact that these riders are being pushed out on to a very, very busy road on a flight animal is beyond belief! I’m sure if it was their children this would not be an issue. So Councillors to you I say stop the subterfuge , get this meeting done and include the public. They have a human & moral right to participate. Stop hiding behind closed doors, what are you hiding?

Lorraine Doull
2023-09-22 08:30:39

As a horse rider of over 40 years in the local area it saddens me immensely that a solution for all cant be found. I wouldnt want to ride down that road with all my years of experience - let alone expect children to do so. We also have the issue that as the town has expanded we encounter far more people who have no experience of horses on the road which makes the experience of riding on the roads far more hazardous than it would have been in the past. I find it incredible that the council seem to take the attitude " of not our problem" and if the council have nothing to hide then why cant all parties be part of the discussions? It would at least provide transparency for all those involved and if this had happened in the first instance before the barriers were erected then an amicable solution for all may have been found without all the ill feeling . The horse community has been a part of Harlow since the inception of the New Town and it would be such a shame to lose it

Graham vonHaartman
2023-09-22 15:19:19

All too often council decisions on public needs and concerns are behind closed doors. Like the time the greenpeace candidate was excluded when deciding on the river stort crossing, one wonders as to just how open the council is and how many inducements are offered at least their secrecy makes one feel that way. Horse riding has been a significant activity for hundreds of yrs, OK I agree that to open up a ride could induce more off road bikes and quads etc but that is not the horse riders responsibility to prevent it, that is down to the council and the police, maybe a locked gate that the horse riders supervisor had a key. At least these decisions should be openly discussed to a conclusion.

2023-09-28 09:53:29

Will there be any Harlow council officers present. They all work from home and don't get out very often

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