Another loss of green space set for our town as Hatfield House announces £50 permits

Mary-Ann Ochota, a TV presenter and archaeologist, with her dog Harpo said Hatfield House cannot do

Mary-Ann Ochota, a TV presenter and archaeologist, with her dog Harpo said Hatfield House cannot do this "on our watch". Picture: Sophia Khan/ Ramblers/ Alan Davies - Credit: Archant

Hatfield House has announced that it intends to charge residents £50 to use it grounds – prompting a backlash.

A map of who can get a residents permit in Hatfield, which represents the old parish of Hatfield. Picture: Hatfield House

A map of who can get a residents permit in Hatfield, which represents the old parish of Hatfield. Picture: Hatfield House - Credit: Archant

The news comes after the town has lost 32 football pitches worth of green space, but its population has grown to an estimated over 45,000 (39,201 at 2011 census) – a huge increase from the earlier 2000s where the population was over 29,000 and more than its founders envisioned.

Local children’s author Joe Craig says he understands the park – which has been in the Cecil family since the time of James I – is under “financial pressure” but this is about a “relationship between neighbours” that have had a shared history.

He added: “Just as we might be custodians of land and historical houses, we are custodians of rights and relationships. It’s essential that the residents take that responsibility seriously and I think we do. We inherited this relationship when we came to live here and we need to honour that.

“Others inherit other rights, or houses or land or even estates. It would be irresponsible if they acted without a sense of their place in history, their role in a community or the continuing duties that go hand in hand with inherited privileges.”

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Mary-Ann Ochota, a Time Team archaeologist and TV presenter, who is married to Joe Craig, agrees that this is about the “moral responsibility” for the House to provide for the town, the loss of green space and the town’s wellbeing.

“They have enacted charges that are exclusive and divisive in the local community,” Mary-Ann said. “It all feels a bit much at the moment and it’s very hard to organise opposition when we can’t meet up.

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“The trees in the park are thousands of years old and predate the running of an estate in profit-making terms and the Cecil family.”

The new resident scheme, which previously charged those living locally for the administration costs of the passes at £13, will now be £40 for a six-month membership for one adult, £50 for a 12-month membership for one adult, £75 for 12-month membership for two adults and up to three children (under 16), who will be given access to the park when they are with a valid passholder. It also means residents can now use the gardens.

Mary-Ann and her son Cole, aged two. Picture: Andrew Crowley

Mary-Ann and her son Cole, aged two. Picture: Andrew Crowley - Credit: Andrew Crowley for the Telegraph

“And what are they suggesting you leave one kid with the nanny? They’re sitting in their ivory tower. We can’t let this happen on our watch. It’s not fair on the most vulnerable.

“Fundamentally, they have galvanised a local sense of community but it is really the way to do it? Fighting with the people in the big house?”

The Old Hatfield Residents Association has also written to Hatfield House about the high level of new charges, the bad timing during the pandemic and have proposed a solution.

They think a two tier scheme of just access to the park and the park plus the other new benefits would be better and hope the introduction of passes can be postponed to January 2022 or Spring 2021, when the House reopens and the other benefits of the passes will become available and COVID-19 problems have eased.

Mary-Anne argued that this is about history and when Hatfield became one of the post-war New Towns, the importance of the open space was cited as cornerstone in its development.

The New Town Development Corporation October 1949 report states: “No portion of Hatfield Park is included in the designated area (as) you envisaged this park as remaining an open space.

“The Corporation emphasize that this is essential and point out that successive Marquesses of Salisbury have generously given the residents of Hatfield access to Hatfield Park. There is no reason to think that this will not be the case in future and it should be emphasized that this facility will be essential when the town grows to 25,000.”

This statement also did not happen in isolation as a recent Hatfield Regeneration 2030+ report confirms: “Correspondence in Hatfield House’s archives demonstrates the relationship between Lord Salisbury and the New Town Development Corporation during the twentieth century in particular.

“In a letter written by the general manager and town planner in 1962, the ‘active support and encouragement’ of new development between the two parties is highlighted. This positive working relationship is reflected in the estates’ continued interest and involvement in the development of Hatfield.”

But there is no legal evidence and the house has never stated publicly that access will be maintained though it does want people to enjoy the park for their wellbeing.

Mary-Ann also applauds the work that Hatfield has done with the local community by donating to the food bank, investing in the park and helping businesses in the Stable Yard.

The House also does not have a right of way and there is a legal right to enjoy the grounds.

As Anthony Downs, estate director at Hatfield House, explains there are old footpaths on old ordinance survey maps marked but these do not mean as the plan does state a ‘right of way’.

“There have been none for at least 200 years,” he told the WHT while emphasising. “We are not trying to create a them and us.

“We engage with schools and local charities and this will go on. This house has always been part of the local community but the reality is we have to keep the House going.”

The House will also continue its work giving free passes to the local food bank to distribute and keeping access for the scouts and schools.

When asked about the cost Mr Downs said: “We looked long and hard at the fee structure. It’s easy to administer and strikes a price that is at a good level and is comparable with schemes elsewhere.

“This is lower than the cost of parking [at Stanborough] or even buying a coffee,” he added. “It’s 20 pence a day.”

He also explains that COVID-19 has left them extremely vulnerable when costs have risen for large estates, in recent years, due to more regulation such as on maintaining the trees so they are safe for those walking the grounds.

In a letter to residents Hatfield House added: “We have been forced to make a number of redundancies and put a temporary stop on some important expenditure. However, we have tried to maintain the basic upkeep of the Park which, of course, involves a similar order of expense in terms of conservation and maintenance to Hatfield House itself.”

Mr Downs also told the WHT that tenants at the House have had rental holidays for their businesses, which they have worked hard to support while the House has received no external support during this time.

He added the “vast majority of feedback has been positive”, especially as friends and family – who do not have passes – will enjoy discounted rates with passholders.

The three child limit has also been clarified as its the average that attend the park and “to prevent children’s birthday parties”.

But there will be some discretion allowed for those who are single parents with more than one children and parents can let the park know.

The park has been kept open for passholders during COVID-19 and permits were extended in the summer.

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