A motion put before the full Town Council meeting last night, Monday November 2, by Cllr. Barrett-Morton to ban St John’s students from using the Priory Gardens did not gain the support of the majority of councillors.
Cllr. Barrett-Morton, who lives adjacent to the Priory Gardens, presented the council with the following statement: “During the current situation, the Gardens should be viewed as a SAFE outdoor space for use by all. This is currently NOT the case as a large number of students are blatantly disregarding the current rules on numbers and social distancing. Evidence has shown that the younger age group have become the major vector in contributing to coronavirus spread. The exclusion of St. John’s students from Priory Gardens is required for communal infection control and protection of the elderly using these Gardens.
I propose that MTC requests that St John’s place a ban on their students using Priory Gardens for the next 6 months. Once this period has passed this can be reviewed in the light of the prevailing pandemic situation.”
Cllr Fogg supporting the motion said, “Anything we can do to stop people gathering together to show we care about the health of the community must be good.”
However, Councillors were dismayed at the lack of evidence for the claims made and the impossibility of policing who would be allowed in the gardens. “We are being asked to respond to evidence we have not seen,” said Cllr Price. “We can’t shut the Priory by age. If we shut it it’s shut for everyone. I don’t want to create ill feeling between St John’s and us.”
Cllr Farrell said, “Most days the Priory is a great place for the elderly and young people to socialise. We have had no complaints from anyone other than Cllr Barrett-Morton. This is so wrong. We should be working with the schools not against them. The residents in the Priory sheltered housing Aster community like to hear the young people in there.”
Cllr Dobson called for the Priory Gardens to be locked at night when young people in their twenties have been seen to gather there.
Acting Inspector Gareth Edwards on behalf of the Wiltshire Police pointed out that it was not legally possible to impose a six-month ban.
Cllr Dow commented, “I don’t believe the children are bringing Covid into the town.”
This was confirmed by Principal of St John’s, Ian Tucker, who was also present at the meeting, “When we have had to close the school or ‘bubbles’ in the school, it’s been due to staff testing positive not students.”
Ian Tucker told the Town Council, “I’ve heard both sides of the arguments and I can’t support the motion. It would drive a wedge between us. Our young people have a lot of anxiety at the moment. They returned to school in September after 5 months away with all the new measures such as wearing masks, one way systems, and catching up work missed to deal with. Our older students, those in their final year of GCSE and A-level are struggling with the uncertainties ahead.
We continue to strive to educate our students about the Covid restrictions in all sorts of ways and I write to parents every week and ask for their support in reinforcing social etiquette and social distancing rules. We will work closely with the Town Council but a blanket ban on our students would be unlawful and it can’t be policed.”
The motion was defeated with only two councillors supporting it.