Sunday, 18 December 2011

Graham Street Park and kick-about area saved!

The destruction of Graham Street Park  and the ‘redevelopment’ of City Road Basin is one of the Lib Dems most outrageous and anti-democratic schemes of their entire administration.

Back in October 2003 the then Lib Dem leader of the Council cooked up an idea to ‘regenerate’ the area by building apartments all around the basin, and also by introducing two absolutely massive private residential towers at the City Road end of the basin.  The Towers are offensive enough, and not something that any local resident would want, but the scheme didn’t stop there, it proposed building on most of Graham Street Park, including the kick-about area, and also kicking the Boat Club out of their clubhouse to a much smaller site across the other side of the Basin.  The replacement for the park was going to be a long thin ribbon of grass stretching in front of all the flats, which might make a nice garden for the newly gentrified apartments, but was not what you would call a park.

The park is a very valuable local amenity, much used, particularly during the summer, and the kick-about area is an integral part of the park.  The suggestion that the kick-about area could simply be relocated across the other side of the basin, about 15 mins walk away, and separated from the rest of the park by the water was madness, because it would no longer be part of the park, and would act as a magnet for crime and ASB, isolated on its own, half way down Wharf Road.

The proposals were put to the Lib Dem dominated South Area Committee, and ‘consulted’ on.  However, although views were sought at South Area Committee, the Masterplan, which would form part of the Council’s planning policy, was never actually put to the vote.  It was simply ‘adopted’ by the executive, at which point it became a material consideration in planning terms. So when a planning application for two towers, one 28 stories, and one 36 stories, came before the South Area planning committee, they couldn’t really be refused, because they were already ‘approved’ in outline by the Masterplan.  This was Lib Dem anti-democracy at its worst. 

The Towers are, unfortunately, approved, and will probably get built.  However, when we won back the Council in 2010, I was determined to try and keep Graham Street Park intact, including the kick-about area.  I got hold of papers relating to the deal to relocate the Boat Club (to get it out of the way of the luxury flats), and discovered that the deal required the Council to pay to relocate the Boat Club, not the developer. Never mind that we couldn’t afford to pay for this now, it was an extraordinarily poor deal for the Council, and would have resulted in the loss of the Park, relocation of the kick-about area, and significant expense to the Council – overall, a significant loss of public amenity, with no payback at all for the local community.

I’m pleased to say that common sense has prevailed, and the Labour Administration has now decided that the Boat Club and the kick-about area stay where they are, and the Council will use the sites that it owns on the other side of the basin for much-needed housing. And local residents get to keep their park.

I’m looking forward to seeing significant improvements to the Park.  The disused building needs bringing back into use, hopefully with a cafe of some sort, all the planting needs some severe pruning and thinning to make the currently overgrown parts of the park feel safe, and the kick-about area needs to be completely refurbished to provide proper fencing, and clear visibility from the street, so that it no longer attracts ASB after dark.  All improvements that local residents actually want.