It is true that jogging can burn fat, lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes and improve your standard of living. But, as with all medicines, it has its side effects. Chiefly, as any unsuspecting dog walker or elderly ambler will tell you, it can turn decent people into panting, aggressive, elbow-jabbing, red-faced path-hoggers.

Until recently, this Jekyll and Hyde transformation has remained a largely benign phenomenon. Just stand to the side and hope they get shin splints. But we now live in a world hungry for outrage, where Facebook and Twitter encourage people who are miffed to band together and transform that collective miff into one vast nuclear storm of incredulous fury.

It was only a matter of time until people emitting the volatile gas of their post-jog mania would be given a match, and that match has been struck by Stoke Gifford Parish Council. I expect they had no idea of the mushroom cloud they were about to ignite when they decided Parkrun should have to pay towards the upkeep of their local park and weekly jogging venue. It's the parish council equivalent of a bumbling man with fluffy eyebrows going into his kitchen with a candle and not realising he's left the gas on.

A petition on Change.org to stop the council charging a small amount for the free event is approaching 50,000 signatures and the webosphere has gone critical. The runs planned for this weekend have been cancelled over fears thousands of irked joggers would show up in protest as well as lycra, turning the relatively small patch of grass into a belligerent London Marathon.

Parkrun devotees rightly point out that an estimated two million people around the world join in with 5k runs every weekend. That it's getting adults and children to become more active. That the event is run by volunteers and participation is free. They add that the parish council should see the broader benefits of these communal jogalongs and be charitable in the name of public health. Though on checking their website it doesn't appear that Stoke Gifford Parish Council has responsibility for the future cost of treating long-term weight-related diseases on the NHS.

Let's take a breather and look at this from the parish council's point of view. Parkrun is not a charity. As the parish council says in an open letter, 'Parkrun are an organised group with paid directors and staff and attract over 300 runners using the park & facilities each week.'

We don't know how much those staff, including the founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt CBE, are paid so it's difficult to argue they should dig into their own shorts and pay up. The company does, however, have significant national sponsors.

Meanwhile the 300 or so runners who descend on Little Stoke Park every Saturday and Sunday use the toilets and occasionally, by the organiser's own admission, the showers. They use council storage space. They trample on the grass and pound the pathways as they chase fitness to the finish line. More egregiously, they can fill up the car park and plonk their vehicles on grass verges. Nothing angers the English more.

Parkrun says it's concerned any demand for maintenance costs will leave them hamstrung, by setting a precedent for other local authorities. It would be a huge loss if the Parkrun events stalled. But on the same token, if councils are to offer all sponsored, non-profit organisations the chance to use their facilities for free, regardless of their maintenance bills, doesn't that also set a precedent that local authorities can ill afford?

The council only recently spent £55,000 of public money resurfacing the car park and it claims that the increased trainer-fall on its paths means another cost of £60,000 is looming.

Parkrun says these figures are misleading, pointing out that the need for repair is not solely down to their joggers. But we're talking about an annual increase in people using the park of around 15,000 and numbers are swelling. Yes, better that than a swelling national waistline. But nobody is suggesting keen runners hoping to get fit should have to pay.

If this were an annual charitable event, I'm sure nobody would mind. But this kind of intense and regular use does of course put a strain on the park's facilities. Surely the council has every right to ask for at least a token amount from a company with paid staff and sponsors? It is not a pedestrian argument.


Andy West is a writer, presenter, children's author and journalist.