“The right of way was preserved forever”: Plantation Garden trust chairman Roger Connah discusses Tony Burlingham’s controversial decision to cut off access with Norwich City Council

Plantation Gardens, Norwich in January 2017. Photo from Mustard TV.

Plantation Gardens, Norwich in January 2017. Photo from Mustard TV. - Credit: Mustard TV.

Protectors of a much-loved city centre garden under threat of closure have discussed its future with council officials.

Plantation Gardens, Norwich in January 2017. Photo from Mustard TV.

Plantation Gardens, Norwich in January 2017. Photo from Mustard TV. - Credit: Mustard TV.

Volunteers and visitors to the Plantation Garden, off Earlham Road, in Norwich, are in shock after the owner of the nearby MJB Plantation Hotel, Tony Burlingham, said he planned to board up the entrances to the gardens on January 27 because of health and safety concerns.

But Roger Connah, chairman of the Plantation Garden Preservation Trust, said the 20m long access path – part of hotel land – is a right of way 'enshrined' in the hotel's title deeds.

It is also part of a 99-year lease for the land granted to the trust from Norwich City Council in 1996.

Mr Connah met with council officials yesterday to talk about the right of way and future for the garden, which is open every day to the public.

He also plans to meet a solicitor today to discuss legal issues.

The trust chairman said he could not predict what would happen to the public open space but did not want the access to be blocked off.

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Since the news broke at the weekend that Mr Burlingham wanted to close the right of way, 1,344 people have signed a petition to keep the gardens open.

The online petition was set up by Rose Hanison, who runs The Black Horse in Earlham Road.

Mr Connah said: 'When the plantation house was sold in 1998 to become a hotel, the right of way was included in the sale. But the right of way was preserved forever.

'It is wonderful people think so highly of the garden.'

He described the support for the petition and garden as 'amazing' and 'heart-warming'.

Formerly a chalk pit, Norwich furniture maker Henry Trevor created the Plantation Garden over 40 years from 1850.

The trust and its volunteers took on the abandoned garden in 1980.

'I cannot see how it can be shut off permanently – that is not possible. If it was closed off it would decay very quickly,' Mr Connah added.

A 20ft sinkhole opened up at the side of the Plantation Hotel last April and Mr Burlingham said his decision to ban access to the gardens was due to his insurance company withdrawing its cover for subsidence at the end of the month.

While Mr Burlingham does not own the gardens, which are located off Earlham Road, he owns all of the access routes leading to it.

He previously said: 'The insurance company has withdrawn my subsidence cover and has made me aware, as a director, of the issue.

'I now have to do something to mitigate the risk, because if a sinkhole opened up and someone injured themselves, I would be done for negligence. It is a matter of health and safety.'

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