Thursday, 1 August 2013

Residents Stunned To Learn Bulldozers Set To Turn Hammersmith Park Into A Car Park, A Private Bar And A Private Commercial Venture

Cllr. Mercy Umeh (Lab): Leading the campaign
to Save Hammersmith Park
Last night the Conservative majority on the Planning Applications Committee voted that most of Hammersmith Park would become a private commercial venture for 35 years. Leasing it rather than selling it was a ruse that meant that H&F's Conservative Administration did not have to seek permission from the Secretary of State which is what is meant to happen when councils dispose of public parks. So their plan now is that the bulldozers will arrive and where before there was trees and greenery there will now be a car park, a private bar and a private sports facility.

The vast majority of local residents appear to have been deliberately kept in the dark about this and those that found out are outraged.

There is an unhappy record of our local parks being sold off or rented out as commercial ventures by H&F Council's Conservative Administration. Remember the Hurlingham Park polo debacle - which later turned out to be financially incompetent? Remember their unsuccessful attempt to allow Ravenscourt Park to be used as a venue for raves, late night drinking and wrestling?
Community facilities like parks, hospitals, village halls and libraries have all been given to us by previous generations of people who campaigned for them to exist. A council has a duty to be a good custodian of those often vital community facilities. Going by the comments of the vast majority of people who attended last night's meeting, I can't see this Conservative Administration being a trusted custodian of any of the Borough's community facilities - even by natural Conservative voters.

Ward councillors Andrew Jones (Lab) and Mercy Umeh (Lab) both delivered eloquent speeches in defense of Hammersmith Park but the Conservatives used their large majority to ignore residents' concerns and block vote it through anyway. Here is what Cllr. Mercy Umeh said:
"Thank you for giving me the opportunity to address this committee. I do so on behalf of the many residents who have contacted me to express their concerns about many aspect of this application. I recognise that this is the Planning Applications Committee and understand that it has the specific brief of considering this application with reference to planning rules and guidelines. I would however like to put on record the concerns my constituents have raised with me about the conflict of interests of majority of the Planning Committee’s members.
Everyone here tonight is aware that the changes being voted on by this committee form part of an agreement the Council’s Conservative Administration has already made with PlayFootball. It is therefore a policy of the Conservative Administration. My constituents are concerned that in the pre-meeting the Conservative councillors had this evening, just prior to this meeting, that they have already agreed to vote this through.
I hope my constituents’ fears aren’t realised and that you will listen to their concerns and vote accordingly.
So let me begin by raising the first planning concern: If this park was being sold to PlayFootball rather than leased it would have to be agreed by the Secretary of State. Instead of selling this park the Administration has leased it for 35 years. In practical terms, although I accept it is different legally, a 35 year lease is the same as a sale. PlayFootball will have control of this park for over a generation of people growing up in this neighbourhood. Given those circumstances, I believe this decision should have been reviewed by the secretary of state. That would have been in the spirit of what the law intended
I do not believe that the public have sufficient confidence in LBHF’s officials or its ruling councillors for such a long term decision to have been made otherwise. That brings me on to the second point.
The consultation: Many of my constituents simply have not been consulted. You will have hopefully read the letter of objection from Virginia Ironside, the Chair of RAPA. She makes the point (and I quote) that “We at RAPA have only heard of what is going on through rumour and have not been consulted at all.” Similarly, I have had many complaints from residents making the same point and I know my colleagues representing White City have too.
This looks to me like the Council deliberately chose to take a very limited consultation. Why?
Was it because it was aware that once people understood what was happening to their park they would object?
I think so…
We have a situation where a third of Hammersmith Park is being leased to private developers for a very long time. The park will be used as a commercial venue. It will include a bar and part of the park will be turned into a car park. Meanwhile, your Conservative administration has agreed to eliminate the bowling green; to eliminate the tennis courts; to eliminate the playground; and to eliminate the basketball pitch.
Your administration has agreed to fell 24 mature tree. It hopes to destroy valuable flower beds. And if this development is agreed it will severely curtail an important green oasis in an area with one of the lowest amounts of green space in the whole of England.
The erection of a 12 foot high fence around the project will not properly lessen the considerable amount of noise and will be completely unsightly. The light pollution will be bad for my constituents – particularly those in Batman Close.
Why do this? Why cut down trees? Why put a car park for 20 cars where that had been greenery, flowers and trees? Why do we need a private bar in this green park?
Why should residents face light pollution and the noise of car’s coming and going and people shouting and yelling until late in the night? Why do any of this?
I understood the Council was trying to change the image of its planning department. How do you think most people will view its behaviour over this scheme? Why do PlayFootball need to be given the opportunity to make £70,000 a year profits out of our public park?
Everyone who is on this committee, all the planning officers and anyone who has taken the trouble to read the planning guidelines will know that this scheme is in direct contradiction to Hammersmith and Fulham’s own guidelines for the Borough.
The London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham has published concerns about there being not enough tennis facilities. It has pledged to do everything necessary to curtail traffic pollution; it states that the location of night-time economy must be sensitive to residential uses and most importantly that that social infrastructure facilities in the White City area should be clearly accessible to the members of the community they serve.
There is talk of PlayFootball charging around £50 per hour to use a pitch. This scheme will not be accessible to the vast majority of residents which is presumably why PlayFootball have asked for a car park.
This is clearly a change of use of land: From a park to a car park; from a park to a bar, from park to a commercial venture. It needs to be judged as a change of use.
The failure of Hammersmith and Fulham, the failure of its planning department and the failure of its Conservative administration to do that brings the reputation of this Borough into disrepute. I ask you to vote this scheme down."

1 comment:

Rebecca Townend said...

This makes me very angry. Trees, greenery and undeveloped space have been left for city residents' quality of life. Tories with country residents do not comprehend the importance of this to local residents. Considering such areas as assets to sell off is unthinkable for anyone with compassion and a healthy soul.
How can we fight this ludicrous move? What can local residents do to protect public resources from these irreversible decisions?