Discussions on future of Newbury Parkrun at Greenham Common
DISCUSSIONS are being held on the future form of Newbury Parkrun, and whether the event can return to Greenham Common.
Newbury Parkrun had been left off a list of more than 500 events across the country to be granted full landowner permission to return on June 26.
Following the delayed easing of lockdown restrictions until July 19, Parkrun events nationally have been pushed back until July 24.
But the future of Newbury's event will have some hurdles to clear, and could result in a booking system or alternative venue for the popular event.
A petition to restart Newbury Parkrun has been signed by more than 450 people so far and can be signed at www.change.org/p/greenham-trust-support-the-restart-of-newbury-parkrun-at-greenham-common
Parkrunners have spoken of the importance of the event, with one saying: "Parkrun is such a vital free local event, helping support not only people's physical health, but also their mental health. Parkrun is also great for the town's economy, attracting visitors and Parkrun tourists from further afield who then spend money with local businesses. It would be devastating for Newbury if it wasn't able to restart here at the earliest possible opportunity."
Greenham Common is managed by the The Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) on behalf of West Berkshire Council.
It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), the largest continuous tract of open heath in Berkshire and home to protected species of ground nesting birds, and the Greenham and Crookham Commons Commission oversees its management.
The council's head of countryside, Paul Hendry, said there was a "very difficult balance" between ecology and recreation on the site, particularly with increased numbers of people using the common.
Mr Hendry, who helped establish Newbury Parkrun in 2012, said that the number of participants had increased significantly, with an average of 500 people turning up every weekend, and sometimes more than 700.
He said that a request to restore Newbury Parkrun had been received from the national office on June 4.
The event will have two steps to clear, the first is seeking approval from the Public Protection Partnership's safety advisory group at the end of June because of the public health issue of social distancing and number of marshals.
Mr Hendry said: "The council may consent to the activity under coronavirus rules and regulations, and Parkrun will have to go through a process where it gets permission from the commission, because they need to be satisfied on the impact of the event and mitigation there.
"It's not in the council's gift to give that permission, and also BBOWT as leaseholder on that site. This is a discussion that will probably continue for some considerable period of time."
Mr Hendry said that the commission had the responsibility of assessing the impact of activities on the common and that discussions about potential mitigation measures had been mentioned before the coronavirus pandemic.
He said the commission had asked Parkrun National to look at limiting the number of participants through a booking system.
Mr Hendry said: "The principle issue with Parkrun is you can never have an indication of how many people will be there. If we could limit the numbers I don't think it would be a particular issue.
"We can look at alternative venues. No one wants to see Parkrun not continue in Newbury."
He said that splitting the event into a winter and summer venue, and also holding a separate junior Parkrun to reduce numbers were other options, but the discussion needed to be lead by Parkrun.
Mr Hendry said that the council did not have an area of land to offer as a suitable replacement but there were private options to consider.
Parkrun ambassador, Lewis Cousins, said he was unable to comment at this stage, as did BBOWT.
Newbury Parkrun said on social media last Friday that it is working hard to bring the event back.
It said: "Like you we have been eagerly awaiting news of the return of our beloved event at Greenham Common.
"Parkrun HQ has been working tirelessly with landowners to secure permissions for events to return and has amazingly achieved over 90 per cent of events to restart on 26th June.
"However, unfortunately we have to announce that currently we have NOT been granted landowner permission to restart at Newbury.
"Be rest assured, Parkrun HQ and your local event director Neil Germain are not giving up and are doing all in their power to bring our event back.
"We hope to have more positive news in the near future."