Bristol

Council votes to charge Parkrun for Little Stoke event

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Media captionParkrun ambassador Geoff Keogh said he was shocked by the decision

A council has voted to become the first in the world to charge Parkrun a fee for the use of its grounds.

Hundreds take part in two free, timed runs organised by Parkrun UK in Little Stoke Park, near Bristol.

Stoke Gifford Parish Council said it was "unfair" to expect non-running residents to pay for path upkeep. It voted six to four in favour of charges.

Event co-director, Becky Bushnell, said the result meant the Little Stoke event would end.

She said it was "now a question of how much notice the council gives us".

In a statement issued prior to the vote, the council said it did not want to discourage use of the park for exercise, but it would be "unfair" to expect residents to foot the bill for an event with "paid directors, fundraisers and sponsors".

At Tuesday's meeting, parish council chair Ernie Brown said: "People can come here any time they like".

'Thin end of the wedge'

"Running, exercise - we welcome that. It's a facility that anyone can use. But as an organisation, like any other organisation, they should pay towards the contribution for facilities," he said.

Geoff Keogh, a Parkrun organiser, told the meeting he did not believe the run had a significant impact on the park, but volunteers would be willing to undertake maintenance activities or litter picks "as a way of offsetting whatever the perceived costs might be to the council".

After the vote, former parish council chairman John Wakeham said he was "ashamed" of the decision.

"I'm not of running age any more but I'm glad to see so many people using the park for the kind of purpose for which it was intended," he said.

"This is the thin end of the wedge."

Image caption A number of people addressed the meeting, where cries of "shame" could be heard after the vote was passed

The decision has met with strong criticism online - with runner Paula Radcliffe among those voicing their concerns.

On Twitter, the London Marathon winner branded the council "short-sighted" and said the event should remain "free for everyone, always".

Reacting on the Parkrun Facebook page, Nick Hayward said: "Absolute disgrace. Parkrun is a great concept that brings all ages, abilities (and pets!) together. Should always be FREE."

Timothy Sowry added: "Unbelievable decision which I hope backfires. Why not try and kill a free inclusive event promoting health wellbeing and community spirit."

Image caption People at the meeting were upset by the decision

About 300 adults and children take part in the timed runs in the park.

Parkrun's ethos is for the event to be free and open to everyone.

It stages 850 runs in 12 countries and organisers warned before the vote the event in Little Stoke, south Gloucestershire, would end if a charge was imposed.

The weekly event has attracted 4,083 registered runners since its launch in 2012.

Ms Bushnell said: "We've done everything we can to explain how Parkrun works, run by volunteers and giving to the community. The benefits outweigh any wear and tear."

"I'm incredibly disappointed and sad for what's going to be lost."

Image caption None of the Parkrun UK events currently charge participants as the organisation believes its events should be open and free for everyone

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