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Another steaming pile of news about ‘health and safety gone mad’. And for once it might even be right. This week in the Daily Mail and the Telegraph a seemingly nutty story breaks about Telford and Wrekin Council.
It seems that David Ottley, Telford & Wrekin’s sports and recreation manager, wrote in a letter to a member of the public:
Our Town Park staff approach adults that are not associated with any children in the Town Park and request the reason for them being there. In particular, this applies to those areas where children or more vulnerable groups gather, such as play facilities and the entrances to play areas.
This reminded The Ranger of long ago days patrolling urban parks and open spaces. I used to go out on evening and weekend patrols, and the sort of places I ended up were often frequented by unsavoury types, illegal motorcyclists, vandals, arsonists, and so on – as well as plenty of happy visitors enjoying the park of course. It became a rule of thumb for me and my colleagues that if you saw a man without a dog he was probably worth keeping an eye on. A man, by himself, in a wood, with no dog, was automatically an object of suspicion. Sounds a bit like Telford and Wrekin if you substitute children for dogs. It seems likely that rangers and parkies across the land use similar search-patterns to keep an eye out for trouble before it starts. But that’s not the same as a written policy. Never did I even dream of going up to anyone and challenging them for their doglessness, even less of formalising such an idea into a written rule. So, on the face of it, Telford and Wrekin have dropped the ball on this one. But how did it come about? A bit more investigation reveals that this policy only came to light when it was being used as an excuse for moving on some demonstrators handing out leaflets whilst dressed as penguins. So perhaps it was Telford and Wrekin being a bit stupid – and then compounding it by writing such a policy down in a letter which the recipients predictably enough sent out to every media organ they could think of. In fact, it appears there never even was such a silly policy, but having written a letter saying there was – apparently to excuse their moving-on of the protestors – they’ve now dug themselves an even bigger hole and forgot to stop digging. So the error was the letter, rather than the non-existent policy. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this bit of cack-handed public relations has been leapt upon with glee by the papers, and as for the local whiners and doom-mongers, well, they’re loving it, making such proportionate responses as:
It has been suggested that a petition could be raised expressing a vote of No Confidence in the Chief Executive, the legal department and others who allow such stupid statements to be made… No longer can we trust those operating in Telford and Wrekin HQ, no longer can we trust our elected members…
Yeah, whatever. Telford and Wrekin have just handed these trouble-seeking loons a gift-wrapped cause celebre, plus some national coverage on the top. These objectors’ heartfelt stuff is all very tub-thumpingly worthy – and will doubtless be trotted out next time Mrs Miggins gets a parking ticket 2 minutes after the meter expires. But come on, it’s just a daft officer being a bit of a jobsworth. The Chief Exec of Telford and Wrekin has already said it’s all a mistake anyway and there never was such a policy[ref]. However, the protestors are going to hold a day of action and protest this Saturday just in case. One wonders what the protest will be – will they all go through the park at intervals, one by one, separately, without children? Will anyone notice? Let’s hope the weather’s fine for them (Update: it was). Sheesh. What a storm in a teacup.