KNUTSFORD’S Conservative councillors say their consistent calls for Cheshire East Council to reopen Tatton Park paid off.

The parkland reopened yesterday (Wednesday) to walkers, cyclists and vehicles after being closed since March 23 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Cabinet member Cllr Nick Mannion (Labour) said the council had not been in a position to work towards a reopening date until the government clarified guidance on pay-for-entry outdoor attractions, and had to ensure arrangements were in place to protect staff and visitors.

A Tatton Conservative Association spokesman said Knutsford Conservative councillors had been applying consistent pressure for Cllr Mannion to reverse his refusal to reconsider the decision to close.

Cllr Tony Dean, one of the two Conservative members representing Knutsford at Cheshire East, said: “It was good to see the change of mind. It will be keenly welcomed by Knutsford residents.

“We did not agree with councillor Mannion’s repeated refusal, which was due to fears that people would travel to the park from miles around and would not maintain social distancing.

“This ignored the fact that people quickly became accustomed to the lockdown and the rules put in place on March 23.

Knutsford Guardian:

Conservative councillors Matthew Robertson, James McCulloch and Tony Dean

“As the light traffic on the roads over the past two months has demonstrated, concern about people driving to the park from miles around was unfounded.

“At a time when Government policy urges people to take exercise, we believed walking in Tatton’s parkland was the safe option for residents.

“Instead – for more than two months – they have been restricted to busy pavements and footpaths in and around Knutsford, where observing social distancing can often be difficult.

“On behalf of our community, we have repeatedly raised the issue of the unfortunate decision to close the Tatton Park with CEC’s ruling Labour/Independent coalition.

“Happily this has finally paid off. Dropping opposition to reopening was common sense and the safe alternative.”

Knutsford Guardian:

Cllr Nick Mannion

Cllr Mannion, cabinet member for environment and regeneration, said the park had been closed very quickly to comply with Government guidance.

He said: “Cheshire East Council, along with the National Trust, were not in a position to work towards a date to reopen the parkland at Tatton Park until the government clarified its guidance, and that was only within the last seven days.

“We also had to take into account the safety of our staff and our visitors, and therefore had to ensure appropriate arrangements and materials and PPE were supplied and in place to protect visitors and staff alike.”

He said the park had been closed since March 23 to limit the spread of coronavirus, avoid encouraging unnecessary travel to the area and support lockdown rules and guidance.

He added: “Last week the government finally clarified guidance on pay-for-entry outdoor attractions, which were supposed to stay closed until July, so people can now ‘visit gardens and land maintained for public use as an alternative open space to spend time outdoors’.

“In response, Tatton Park, which is operated by Cheshire East Council on behalf of the National Trust, along other large outdoor destinations – including the National Trust, has implemented plans for a phased reopening.

“These plans focus on the wellbeing of our visitors, staff, wildlife and local communities, and initially mean we will be able to give access to our parkland with parking, toilets and the staff required to securely manage them.”

Knutsford Guardian:

Cllr Craig Browne

Cllr Craig Browne, deputy leader at Cheshire East and Independent group leader, said: “At this time of international crisis, restrictions to civil liberties have necessarily been at their highest level since the end of the Second World War.

“Sadly, 417 residents across the borough have also lost their lives as a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic, and this is therefore not the time to be making political points.

“There are two Bank Holiday weekends during May, and to have re-opened in advance of either would have been irresponsible.

“Such a decision would have left Tatton Park as the only National Trust property in the north west to be open.

“The likelihood of this encouraging people to travel to Tatton from far and wide was therefore too great a risk to take.

“It was always our intention to reopen Tatton Park as soon as it was safe to do so, after the two Bank Holiday weekends, which is what we have now done.”