Royal Avenue Gardens is misused, neglected and uncared for, while Dartmouth awaits the contract for its transfer from South Hams District Council

By Toby Leigh in Community News

A past mayor of Dartmouth claims that commercial use of Royal Avenue gardens is not allowed. Dartmouth’s District Councillor complains that beds are not planted and weeds are left to grow. Old Dartmothians are concerned that the fish pond in Royal Avenue Gardens is nearly overgrown, is infested with rats and it needs to be cleaned and restored.

SHDC, which is currently responsible for the upkeep of Royal Avenue Gardens, have not addressed these concerns. Indeed they are looking to take revenue from the gardens by applying a £55 administration fee on booking all events. This will impact events held on both Coronation Park or Royal Avenue Gardens, unless or until, such assets are transferred to Dartmouth Town Council, as is currently proposed.

Dartmouth council’s policy on charging for events has not been decided yet but ex-councillor, Richard Rendle, has pointed out to the Chronicle, that there are regulations against anyone ‘trading’ in Royal Avenue Gardens and they are not being enforced.

Mr Rendle provided a copy of Dartmouth Town Council Regulations for the use of the Royal Avenue Gardens for fetes, etc, from 1st April 2013. These state that “Royal Avenue Gardens may only be used by charitable and voluntary organisations (including schools) and only for the purposes of fundraising”.

Furthermore, they say that: “Market Traders, Fairground Operatives and professional traders of any kind are not allowed in the Royal Avenue Gardens. Applicants must adhere to this restriction.”

Currently, these Dartmouth Town Council regulations are further ‘supported’ by bylaws made by the District Council of South Hams under the Public Health Act 1875 which say that: “No persons shall in the pleasure grounds sell or offer or expose for sale or let to hire any commodity or article.”

These regulations may apply apply to buskers who sell their live music for a donation.

Dartmouth and SHDC were asked for their response to these regulations and why they were not being enforced.

A spokesman for SHDC said: “We are looking into it. Can you name some specific instances and companies or traders where these bylaws have not been enforced? It might help us narrow it down.” In response, it was suggested SHDC might look at Dartmouth Regatta or the Dartmouth Food Festival. SHDC had not completed their investigation by the time of going to press and neither had Dartmouth Town Council responded.

Jonathan Hawkins, District Councillor, has his complaints about Royal Avenue Gardens also. He complains that beds are unplanted and weeds left to grow in Royal Avenue Gardens and The Embankment.

Cllr Hawkins wrote to South Hams District Council to complain: “Today is July 7th, 2017, I walked through Royal Avenue Gardens. We are well into our summer season, yet the beds are still unplanted and those that have been planted recently are dying for the want of water.

“I am sorry but this is a disgrace, Dartmouth was once called the pride of the South Hams. Today, if it where not for the volunteers of Dartmouth Green Partnership, I dread to thing what state our town would be in

“I have asked earlier today, if I can pay through one of my locality grants to get the Embankment properly sprayed and cleared. I have repeatedly asked for this to be done. Weeds are growing still under the seats, around the raised flower beds, shelter and boat kiosks

“The area, where last spring I gave £1000 to Dartmouth Green Partnership for new camellias and Hydrangeas, is now over-grown and the new plants struggling to get through.

“I am sorry but this simply is not good enough. SHDC makes considerable money from our town through rates, property, car parks etc. I do not believe we get value for money. I have asked repeatedly for better TLC, I have offered grants to help.”

The District Councillor’s concerns are joined by Old Dartmothians, who are concerned about the state of the fish pond in Royal Avenue Gardens. It is nearly over-grown and is infested with rats.

Since its founding on Regatta Sunday in 1923, Old Dartmothians, have led by example, contributing their time and effort to attempt to help up keep, Dartmouth’s parks and gardens. The fish pond is no exception and it has received their attention on many occasions despite the upkeep falling squarely on SHDC.

Today, the pond is overgrown. Its protective net to keep the birds from the ornamental fish is long gone. The threat from birds is somewhat lessened by the overgrowing plants but the few fish left face a continual threat from the rats nesting behind the pond.

There is an obvious health hazard and risk to children of having rats close to what was a feature of the gardens. SHDC have been asked for their comments concerning this but had no comment at the time of going to press.

Old Dartmothians are keen to help restore the fish pond and discussions are being held within its ranks to plan just such a restoration.

The problems of the upkeep of Royal Avenue Gardens and doubts about its use, come at a time when SHDC is under funding pressure to reduce costs. As a result, it is also at a time of negotiations for transfer of the gardens, and indeed other assets to Dartmouth. This is the subject of a letter from ex-mayor, Richard Rendle which is published in today’s paper. The thrust of the letter is to question Dartmouth Town Council’s competence in acquiring properties from SHDC and asks that the details of any contract first should be made known to Dartmouth’s tax payers for their support.

Dartmouth Mayor Councillor Richard Cooke has already stated in a full council meeting: “I don’t think we have any specific plans to seek the views of members of the public further than the publicity of the open meetings and the local press we’ve had.”

Mr Rendle asks: “anything that might actually be a net asset (i.e. not a net liability), such as the lower ferry and car parks is not and never has been part of the deal. Why not? Are we just taking on liabilities and being paid on a reducing sum, which is only part of the true cost of upkeep each year?”

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