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.


15 comments on “Leave London’s Parks Alone”

  1. Adam says:

    I’m still really angry with the short-sighted little twerps of the Stoke Gifford parish council who wanted to charge people for using the park for the parkrun. Fantastic weekly event for everyone, staffed by volunteers, free to enter and brings a real community feel. https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/apr/13/stoke-gifford-parkrun-council-condemned-charge-paula-radcliffe?client=safari

  2. SteveB says:

    Councils are responsible for care services and bear the cost of all the demographic changes – ageing, immigration, and the rest – whilst having central government funding cut. Because central government funding is often around 90% of their spend, a 1% increase in spend leads to a 10% increase in council tax. They already cut all the easy stuff – grants to charities etc – and it’s hard to make internal efficiencies because they are heavily unionised, so it’s pretty inevitable you’re going to see them ‘sweating the assets’.

  3. Brooke says:

    Urban parks were built during times when the same demographic changes SteveB mentioned were in force, at least here in the US. In the face of those changes, the parks were meant as signs of the nation’s values, as well as of its wealth. As I read the urban history, the park builders meant to have places of community recreation and civility for “immigrant” and poor families who were working 60-80 hours/week, including Saturdays.

    While the economic and funding conditions are harsh, the solution “sweating the assets” demonstrates a lack of imagination, innovation and concern for democratic participation on the part of municipal leadership. Mr. Fowler’s message is right–manage and lead better, and remember there are other constituencies besides real estate developers.

  4. SteveB says:

    Brooke, uk local government has no independent funding ability – there’s no such thing as municipal bonds for example – and they also do not receive any of the local commercial tax which all goes to central government. They have only a local property tax plus what they are allocated by the government. And because the government is such a large share, local propert tax (called council tax) is very highly geared – invery round numbers, a 10% increase in expense can double the tax.
    In some medium sized councils the immigration is in the hundreds of thousands with no extra funding, for which provision of services such as schooling is a legal requirement, with no extra funding.
    I dont want to say that the councils are wonderful, just that the figures cant possibly stack up.

  5. Brian Evans says:

    Westminster Council would want to privatise. Tory councils, like Tory governments know the cost of everything, and the value of nothing.

  6. Ian Mason says:

    @SteveB >Brooke, uk local government has no independent funding ability – there’s no such thing as municipal bonds for example

    Better tell the folks at the UK Municipal Bonds Agency then, they can knock off work early. https://www.ukmba.org/
    Municipal bonds have been issued in the UK for as long as there have been municipalities to issue them. In the financial year 2013-2014 £3,299 million was raised by the issue of municipal bonds in the UK.

  7. Brooke says:

    Steve, same here (in terms of municipal government, i.e. Mayor and City Council. As business people, when we think we might miss the numbers, we hustle, create, market and sell, so people who depend upon us are not hurt. Would like local politician to do the same.

  8. Helen Martin says:

    Funding is so different in different places. We have three levels – municipal, provincial and federal. Highways and anything else that crosses boundaries moves the funding & the responsibility up a level. Things were adjusted when we finally got a constitution we could manage ourselves but we need to look at it again (although salmon are federal wherever they are has not changed and won’t). It sounds as if Britain needs to handle things differently, too. Perhaps if there weren’t so many councils things would be cheaper?
    In any event, parks are not there as sources of revenue, ever. Occasional events, okay, and refreshment stands (discrete) okay, even though that means washrooms which are a cost item (put an extra penny on the tea). People need parks. Even we put in little “neighbourhood” parks with just room for a swing set, a slide, two or three benches and a few bushes.

  9. davem says:

    I grew up near Charlton Park and spent a lot of time there as a kid, then went to school near Greenwich Park, one of the most beautiful parks in London.

    Currently live near Danson Park, another wonderful open space.

    I couldn’t agree with you more, they deserve respect.

  10. John Griffin says:

    Interesting clashes of values on here. I read Admin’s piece to be a promotion of the aesthetic, and while the bottom line may well be monetary, that and the mental health reasons are a good argument for retention UNLESS you believe entirely in the monetisation of any physical or mental object. Unfortunately, many define themselves by monetary criteria (I am worth £1.4m OR I drive a Bentley) and many others will nitpick among the ruins of councils when the greater problem is simply the cynical governance of the country and its entrained values. I was amused to see unions mentioned as an enemy of efficiency in local government, the usual strawman – TBH in most councils these simply firefight – for individuals – the redundancies. Most council functions were outsourced long ago to private firms who exhibit a lack of efficiency little seen in the old municipalities, while trousering the amazing £££ available for doing less every year. My local park was once run by a parkie (park warden) who lived in the park, policed and maintained it. This is now done by several firms who charge way in excess of several parkie’s wages for a shoddier job.

  11. I agree completely. It’s not exactly a green city as it is so we need to preserve all the park space that we have. All that money grabbing really annoys me. Everything is being privatised.

  12. Vivienne says:

    There was a laser light installation a year or so ago in Victoria Embankment Gardens. At night so after usual closing time, quite serene and inspiring. This is more the sort of thing that could help funding. Underbelly don’t need a quiet location, surely there are still some derelict bits they could inhabit.

  13. admin says:

    DaveM, I think you had my childhood.

  14. davem says:


    It’s one of the reasons I enjoyed ‘Paperboy’ so much as I knew the area so well.

  15. Charles (another one) says:

    And now they want to put a Holocaust Memorial into the park at the foot of Westminster Palace, apparently called Victoria Tower Gardens. Great idea, rubbish location.

    A park is a park, you can’t, or perhaps shouldn’t have a picnic, kick a ball, or sunbathe in a memorial. As London’s parks increasingly get cluttered with memorials, often long after the events they are commemorating, we are losing more of these vital places. At the end or WWII, the National Parks were in part set up as a memorial to the fallen, a much better response than the gratuitous paving over of a limited resource. It is also the reason that the National Arboretum was set up more recently, for just such memorials, and a fascinating place it is.

    Especially ironic in the same week that the Dubs amendment has been quietly dropped. We didn’t do a great job with taking in refugees from Hitler, we are doing a worse job this time round. Children are getting lost, raped and probably killed a few miles away today in northern France.

    A better memorial to the Holocaust might be a ‘never again’ fund, and certainly more relevant in this country which didn’t lose many of its own subjects in those terrible camps.


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