Developers make war on London's green spaces
John Ruskin believed that “the measure of any great civilisation is in its towns and cities and the measure of a city’s greatness is to be found in the quality of its public spaces, its parks and squares”.
What the Victorian critic would have made about a state which feels so under siege from invisible “enemies” that it sites anti-aircraft missiles in places essential for Londoners’ recreation like Blackheath, Shooters Hill and Oxleas Meadow is anyone’s guess.
But the “Dystopian Games” are not the only threat to the capital’s green areas. A hideous blight is creeping in through the back door under the name of “development”. Corporate, commercial interests are riding roughshod over the clearly expressed desire of residents to preserve the integrity of their green spaces.
The recent decision by a High Court judge to grant permission for a £68 million development in Crystal Palace Park is a case in point. It confirms the worst fears of those who have campaigned hard and long against encroachment on the famous south London park.
Local residents’ long-standing objections to the “regeneration” scheme were overruled when the court backed community secretary Eric Pickles’ decision to grant outline planning permission for the London Development Agency-Bromley Council scheme.
The fact that the area is designated Grade II* Registered, Metropolitan Open Land offered no protection in practice. The so-called masterplan includes the sale of public parkland for 180 private luxury apartments. No wonder that John Payne, chair of the Crystal Palace Community Association (CPCA), described the decision as “a threat to the future of all parks and open spaces in the UK”.
The CPCA believes that references to “opportunities for investment” are an “ominous allusion to commercial development or inappropriate usage of a park that has always provided green open space for recreation, relaxation and other public enjoyment”.
In claiming local stakeholder support for its masterplan, Bromley totally ignored the 7,000-plus signature petition against housing in Crystal Palace park raised by the CPCA in just a few weeks.
Payne sees the threat to the park as a “collusion between Bromley Council and the London Development Agency” and adds: “Both Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson [past and present mayors] reneged on their promises and made complete U-turns.”
Long established local groups like the CPCA, who have a deep knowledge of their communities, were totally ignored in favour of outside consultants.
We are the community and we are being worked against instead of with. What the public said made no difference at all to the masterplan, which was bitterly disappointing.
Corporate financial interests have become the overriding drive, as we’ve seen in the banking scandal and the Olympics. It is a complete betrayal of our personal freedoms.
As chair of the association I must be a-political, but in any case none of the parties at local and national level are to be trusted, as we’ve seen with the threat to close our library. I find it impossible to vote for any party.
“We are at the crossroads of capitalism – the crisis of capitalism and of democracy are interconnected. Capitalism’s dependence on growth is causing huge environmental issues. We live in very worrying times,” Payne believes.
The CPCA has applied for permission to appeal against the High Court decision. If the appeal process fails, they will have to consider their options and possibly take the case to the European Court.
The citizens of south east London are in the frontline of the battle against the corporatocracy, in this instance spearheaded by Pickles, Johnson and Bromley Council. The formation of new democratic bodies such as people’s assemblies is vital if the ruthless drive to destroy public spaces is to be halted.
A World to Win secretary
16 July 2012