Leave London’s Parks Alone
Next month sees the UK arrival of the new Bryant & May novel, ‘Wild Chamber’. One part of the storyline has just become highly topical, as Westminster Council seeks to privatise part of a London park in order to squeeze some more cash from tourists, and Camden Council, who destroyed its local markets to cater to tourism, now go after public parks because they’re not making money.
Parks are not money spinners; they are the city’s safety valves. They were built for our wellbeing. Created to give us a place to think, to calm down, to restore, to dream. This was not altruism but common sense; mental and physical health deteriorates when a city’s workers cannot relieve the pressure they feel.
Parks are not there to be monetised. They are not ‘event spaces’. They should feel separate from the city, not like part of it.
We accepted into parks the encroachment of cafes and corporate tents, and the frequent ruination of open spaces like Hyde Park and Victoria Park to hold rock concerts, funfairs, sports pavilions and Christmas ‘wonderlands’.
As if the idea of having a privately-managed garden bridge entrance beside it isn’t harmful enough, the outdoor entertainment group Udderbelly has applied for planning permission to build a theatre in Victoria Embankment Gardens beside the Thames to run musicals for tourists. This wonderful calm space is one of the very last in central London. But the council feels it is ‘underused’ and that they’re not getting value for money.
Britain’s parks have always set a world standard. The government needs to keep its respect for them and not see them as a business opportunity waiting to be developed. Londoners, or anyone who cares about green spaces in cities, need to fight off these invasions by council money-grabbers.
The privatising and asset-stripping of such parks has already begun. Victoria Embankment Gardens, unlit for 115 years, is being flooded with light and parking charges introduced. The parking around Regent’s Park is expensive and has made it impossible to drive there – but for anyone not in a car it’s too long a walk.
All protests and complains have so far been ignored. We are paying for these parks from our exorbitant taxes – they are not there to turn a profit. Councils like Camden and Westminster are legendary misusers of our money. My message to them is; manage our cash better, and leave our parks alone.