Private Eye has lampooned Bradford on Avon Town Council over its handling of the Becky Addy Wood dispute.

The council, which bought the ancient woodland for £45,000 in April 2020, featured in the satirical magazine's Rotten Boroughs column.

The deal was made with help from a £30,000 donation by members of the Friends of Becky Addy Wood conservation group (FROBAW), with whom the council has since fallen out.

The conservation group says the council only contributed £7,000 (15.5 per cent) of the total purchase price, with £3,000 coming from Bradford on Avon Preservation Trust and £5,000 from Wiltshire Council's local area board.

And the latest issue of Private Eye, edited by Ian Hislop and well-known for its criticism of prominent figures, says the council is taking “enormous risks” with its modest finances in an obstinate dispute with FROBAW.

Back in 2020, both parties signed a Memorandum of Understanding to purchase the wood, with one clause stipulating they would agree to ensure that it would be managed jointly and that FROBAW would be consulted on “significant decisions” on areas not covered by a woodland management plan.

But the two parties  fell out and FROBAW members claimed the council was failing to consult, ignoring their advice and excluding them from significant decision-making.

In February this year, some FROBAW members obtained a temporary High Court injunction to stop the council from felling 150 trees, some of which are affected by the ash dieback disease.

Wiltshire Times: One of the trees felled in Becky Addy WoodOne of the trees felled in Becky Addy Wood (Image: FROBAW)

The Private Eye article concludes: “Unless the impasse is broken, the dispute looks set for a trial in the spring. Bad news for all concerned – apart from m’learned friends, for whom more splendid billing days beckon.”

FROBAW claims the felling is not necessary and has produced surveys from experts to support its argument, while the council claims it  is needed on public safety grounds as a footpath runs through the wood from Westwood to the Kennet & Avon Canal towpath at Avoncliff.

The council produced figures showing that between 192 and 1,728 people a day walk through the wood. FROBAW says a more accurate range figure is more like 43-46 per day and says the public safety risk is not high.

A FROBAW spokesperson said: “The council’s footfall figures of 8/72 p/hour (192/1728 per 24 hrs) were emailed to FROBAW twice, in two different versions of their survey (in August 2022 and again in February 2023). Both quoted these figures.

“The hourly rate of 8 to 72 contrasts with FROBAW’s actual footfall count survey data of 1.8 p/hr and 1.9 p/hr respectively. (43 and 46 per 24 hours).

“The fact is that the council did not carry out any footfall count survey. Further, the town council refuses and without explanation to accept the findings of FROBAW’s footfall count surveys or carry out a footfall count survey jointly with FROBAW.”

The town council has confirmed it has so far spent £181,868 on its legal fees to contest the High Court injunction, while FROBAW’s legal bill is £50,000 and it is crowdfunding to raise more funds.

The council also confirmed that its reserves amount to £289,000 and are being used to defend its legal position in relation to the wood.

The council has hired a leading Bristol law firm, Womble Bond Dickinson, and says it is “confident of its case”.

It denies that it has reneged on the MoU agreement with FROBAW. A spokesperson said: “We are not saying that nor have we.

"As the defendant, the town council cannot withdraw from the litigation. However, the town council is taking reasonable steps to reach an agreement to limit costs and avoid the case reaching trial."

“Due to the ongoing litigation against the town council – we will not be making further comment at this time.”

FROBAW’s spokesperson claims there is a "significant volume" of evidence to suggest the council has ignored the MoU, which has formed the basis for its temporary injunction.

It says the council has rejected four settlement offers, the latest suggesting that each party pay its own costs.