By Charles Randall
6 August 2012
The experience of Lymington CC has shown that commonsense and public support can deal with safety-gone-mad issues. Last winter Lymington & Pennington Town Council voted as landlords to evict the club from the site they had occupied for some 175 years due to the potential danger of six-hits injuring people in the adjacent tennis club.
The decision seemed misguided because no one had actually been injured by flying cricket balls in all this time, and to the council's credit they changed their mind in December and agreed to hold a consulation. A move to a park pitch at Woodside, as proposed, would have jeopardised the Hampshire club's existence in the Southern League.
This real threat to Lymington's existence faded after a public outcry that reached the national media. The consultation process led to the council erecting a net on top of the existing tennis court net to raise protection to almost 50ft. And the council found funding for most of the £30,000 cost. The extra netting would fall within the legal requirement of "reasonable" measures, and talks have started over a new 21-year lease for the cricket club, one of the oldest in England.
There is one aspect about six-hits that is not appreciated in health and safety assessments. At Lymington and other cricket clubs the fielders shout a warning if a ball is struck in a dangerous direction.
Peter Tapper, Lymington's secretary, told the council that this was a main reason for the club's unblemished safety record. "One of our points was that no one had been hit," he reflected this week. "If the ball is going towards the tennis courts we shout, and that is the practice that loads of clubs have adopted. We do that for our own spectators as well. When you get seven or eight fielders shouting 'look out' or something, it is effective. No doubt at some point in the future someone will get hit, but the risk has been reduced."
Though Lymington's existence came under threat -- a move to Woodside was never a realistic proposition -- the club had the additional concern of maintaining a stable landlord-tenant relationship by avoiding litigation. "The council were taken aback by the sheer force of the media uproar -- as we were when we went from local back page to the national newspapers," Tapper said.
"They thought we would roll over and that we would move to a new ground. All the publicity was in favour of Lymington Cricket Club. The question was often raised 'why don't the tennis club move' because they were the last entrants on to the sports ground, but the council were determined to move the cricket club and they felt they could offer us equal if not better facilities at Woodside, which is a park."
Precedents at other clubs and legal advice allowed the crisis to melt away. "Commonsense prevailed and the netting was put up. That has calmed the whole situation down," Tapper added.
Dymchurch, in Kent, have started discussions with their local council in a similar case to reduce the risk of six-hits flying into neighbouring gardens. Threats of closure have changed to 'risk assessment' that will inevitably lead to netting and satisfaction all round. The Bolton v Stone case, decided in the House of Lord's in 1951, has been used as guidance in many cases. Provided reasonable precautions are taken to reduce risk, such as high netting, nothing can stop a high hit of freakish power, so that injury outside the ground might be regarded as an insurable mis-chance.
Tapper jokingly commented: "If the council had cut us off for health and safety reasons, I think I would have gone into the business of supplying fencing because there would have been thousands of grounds -- golf and cricket -- that would have been at risk. These councillors had no idea of the implications of chucking us off the ground."