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UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources Blog


Discussing global sustainability issues


REQUIEM FOR LONDON’S GREEN SPACES: Do the Mayoral Candidates Care?

By ucftpe0, on 4 May 2016

green space london (c) flickr Leonard Bentley

The Mayoral and London elections are upon us. Listening to the candidates I have been struck by how one key issue that is crucial to the health and quality of life in this city is absent from their priority lists: London’s green spaces.

The issue is apparently not in the top ten things that Londoners are most worried about (see The Guardian article ‘10 things Londoners are worried about ahead of the mayoral election’). But if they care for their green spaces, they should be worried. All over London (and, of course, in other urban areas too, but this blog is focused on the London Mayoral election), green spaces are under unprecedented threat, both from development, as politicians struggle with the issue that Londoners do care about most – housing – and from commercial events that disrupt and exclude people from normal uses of parks, and greatly reduce parks’ ability to provide Londoners with the benefits they were set up for: peace, tranquillity, nature, a space to exercise, relax with friends and family, without a monetary charge.

I have seen this process at first hand with my local park, Battersea Park, where a group of us are fighting through the courts Wandsworth Council’s permission to Formula E to stage electric car racing there for a second year  – an event which, on the basis of experience last year, turns the park into a construction site for the best part of a month at the height of summer, excludes people from large parts of it over this period, and keeps them out of it altogether over the weekend when the racing takes place, unless they pay upwards of £20 for admission. You can see what I mean about a construction site by going to www.savebatterseapark.com. This is just one of over 600 commercial events held in this park each year, a level of usage which is seriously degrading this lovely Grade II* listed open space that has been freely enjoyed by Londoners for over 100 years.

Apart from the London housing crisis, the issue that is driving this unprecedented threat to urban green space in London and across the country is money. Green spaces cost money to maintain and local councils currently do not have enough of it. Looking after parks is not a statutory responsibility, so when the cuts come, they fall disproportionately on things that Councillors feel they do not have to do. We were told by one of our local Wandsworth Councillors that ‘parks are a luxury’. It seems curious to me that no-one in the 1970s said that parks were a luxury, nor that we couldn’t afford the huge benefits for health (physical and mental) that these green spaces provide. And yet, here we are forty years on, at least twice as rich now in terms of income per household as we were then, and these parts of our natural heritage are being mercilessly sweated and degraded because it seems we are too poor to keep them up.

So back to the Mayoral elections: how are the candidates on this issue? Well, they all talk the talk. London’s green spaces are fantastic, they say, and safe in their hands. But press on the specifics and things start to wobble. Zac Goldsmith says he will protect Richmond Park (in his constituency), but declined to support our Battersea Park campaign. Sadiq Khan did not even reply to our emails of invitation to come and talk to us. Google any of the candidates and green spaces and you will find high-level statements of support for London’s green spaces. But I could find no mention of how they suggest maintenance of these spaces should be paid for, which is the issue that needs to be resolved if they are to be rescued. The plan to make London a National Park City, which some of them support, is silent on that as well, so it is not clear to me how much traction that would give even if it were to come about.

So what can we do? Keep pressing the candidates, for this Mayoral and subsequent local elections. Force them to be specific. What would they do about Formula E racing in Battersea Park and other destructive events that are degrading our green spaces to an ever great extent? Above all get them to say where the money for park maintenance is to come from. Support the Open Spaces Society, one of Britain’s oldest conservation groups, which is fighting a wonderful rearguard battle to save these spaces for our free access, health and pleasure. Oh, and get out into your local park or other green space this summer. The way things are going you don’t know how much longer you will be able to.

A Personal Blog from Paul Ekins, Professor of Resources and Environmental Policy and Director, UCL Institute for Sustainable Resource, University College London

Image credit: Leonard Bentley (flickr)

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