Left- and right-leaning libertarians alike have joined together this week to lampoon the decision by council officials in Bristol to interrupt a family picnic and order the removal of a windbreak because it qualifies as a "semi-permanent structure."
Article 5 of the bylaws for Clifton Downs in Bristol states that: "No person shall on the Downs, without the consent of the Downs Committee, erect any post, rail, fence, pole, tent, booth, stand, building or other structure."
Apparently Jon Hacker was picnicking on the Downs with his wife, Claire, and daughters Sophie, 11, and Emily, eight, when council officers suddenly appeared in a 4x4, cited Article 5 and ordered them to take their windbreak down.
Hacker, 41, said: "One of them asked who had erected the semi-permanent structure. I said: 'Are you talking about the windbreak?'
"He said that windbreaks weren't allowed due to the bylaws on the Downs. One of them gave me a leaflet about the bylaws and it said you weren't allowed to put up tents or a gazebo, but it didn't say anything about a windbreak.
"Both my family and I were shocked to be informed that we were breaking the law. I think they were being very strict."
"They just ruined our day out and spoilt our daughter's friend's day, who was over from Spain. We took the windbreak down and it was so windy our paper plates and serviettes were blowing everywhere.
"We didn't want to leave a mess as that would be breaking the law as well, so we packed up and drove home and ended up finishing our picnic in our garden.
Credit where credit's due, however, Bristol city council have apologised and admitted its employees had been "overzealous".
"We apologise to the gentleman and his family. Clearly there needs to be discretion when enforcing the bylaws of the Downs.
"They are designed to prevent tents and gazebos being put up on the Downs, but there should be flexibility to allow families to use windbreaks. We shall instruct our enforcement officers and rangers on this basis."
- Windbreak falls foul of overzealous council officials (Guardian)
- The jobsworths! Council orders family having picnic to remove £12.99 windbreak - branding it 'semi-permanent structure' (Daily Mail)
- Law and Government (Findlaw.co.uk)
- English legal news (The Solicitor)
- Find a solicitor (Contact Law)