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Topic: Worrying developments for Royal Parks future
Posted by: Vanessa Smith
Date/Time: 09/10/14 13:22:00

London’s parks risk being privitised by farce.

Posted on October 8, 2014 by paulmehta42

It’s probably safe to assume that nobody looks forward to getting a call from the police. It’s pretty much always bad news and probably the last place you want them phoning is your office. So you can imagine the reaction Monday when the charity where Leo Visconti works, was contacted by the Met.

Leo runs the Charity Softball league which he started 11 years ago. Since last summer we’ve been campaigning against the Royal Parks attempts to give a private company the right to charge people to play sport in Hyde Park. They’d been approaching people for £30+ an hour to use a scrappy area called the old football pitches.

We launched a petition, signed by over 20000 people, and asked some lawyers for advice. It soon became clear that the Royal Parks hadn’t consulted the public about privitising one of the most famous parks in the country, which only the year before had been advertised on the world stage as one of the London Olympic venues.

Thanks to the campaign we got the fees suspended. But this wasn’t going to stop the Royal Parks in their plans to make money from the area. They rushed out a survey that was so poorly put together our lawyers had to helpfully point out that it would have been unlawful to use it to bring back fees. Now they’ve launched a new consultation. The public has got just a few weeks to have their say on the future of Hyde Park.

So why were the Met calling Leo on Monday? They’d been contacted by the Royal Parks informing them that we were planning a march in Hyde Park that night. None of the staff at the Royal Parks the officer spoke to knew anything about it, so we must be marching unorganised!

They wanted to know what was being planned? Were we trying to gather hundreds of people in the park for a demonstration that hadn’t been given permission?

Well no.

The truth is more farcical. We were planning to attend their own user consultation meeting!

A meeting which had been arranged in work hours, at such short notice, that most couldn’t make it. Whilst others, including the venue in the park for the meeting booked by the Royal Parks, didn’t even know it was happening. That’s why we’d spent the previous 24hrs promoting it for them on twitter, encouraging other users to come. It’s the only thing we think they could have got the idea that we were rallying crowds from.

Although the officer apologised, the fact that the police had been called at all is worrying. Not least because a quick check round the Royal Parks own offices should have given them our details, we’ve been in regular contact for the last 18 months, or uncovered the member of staff who’d arranged for the meeting to take place. Instead, the police were called.

What’s concerning us is how little time or notice the public seems to have to respond to this consultation. Since we first met with them last year it’s been clear that they want to turn the area, which is popular with people who play sport, into a way of generating income. Like most other Government bodies, the Royal Parks have seen the money they get from the Department for Culture Media and Sport cut. And it’s not just Hyde Park. It’s a problem that’s being repeated in parks large and small across by councils the city. When money is tight, the first thing that gets cut is the budget for green spaces.

From the start we’ve said this isn’t just about us. We recognise we regularly use that area of the park in the summer months. But that also means that it’s also up to us to protect the area so that anyone else who wants to use it can. Our league was created to be an inclusive way to meet a diverse range of people from across the sector. We’ve got people aged 18 to over 60, people with a range of disabilities from sensory loss, to mental health and physical disabilities. One team has a player who is blind in one eye and only has 20% vision in the other, he’s their pitcher! We’ve got players who can hit a home run every time, and others who are yet to make contact. Most are staff, but lots are on low incomes and others are volunteers. We are proud of what we’ve created, that’s why we want to protect it and make sure others have the opportunity to use the space for what every they want to create.

So if the Royal Parks think this is the right decision for the future of the old football pitches, why not hold a longer public consultation, with more effort and resources going in to discussing the issue with ordinary Londoners who will be affected by charges to play sport?

In the end Monday’s events turn out to be beyond farce, not only were we wrongly reported to the police, we arrived to the meeting to find that nobody else could attend. Just us and a reporter from the local paper, the West End Extra, who the Royal Parks asked to leave

Perhaps if they’d given the process more thought and worked with the local community more people have turned up. We wouldn’t have had to advertise it for them so that people know their parks are on the verge of being privitised and they’ve only got a couple of weeks left to stop it.

Until then we will keep campaigning for there to be no charges to play sport in Hyde Park and encouraging people to fill in their consultation. Let’s just hope it doesn’t lead to any more calls from the police.

Join the campaign, sign our petition

Have your say on the future of Hyde Park, fill in the consultation

Read more about the proposals here

Entire Thread
TopicDate PostedPosted By
Worrying developments for Royal Parks future09/10/14 13:22:00 Vanessa Smith
   Re:Worrying developments for Royal Parks future09/10/14 13:34:00 Richard Greenhough
      Re:Re:Worrying developments for Royal Parks future09/10/14 14:07:00 Vanessa Smith
         Re:Re:Re:Worrying developments for Royal Parks future09/10/14 16:32:00 Jonathan Bingham

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