Council consultation on selling off 4 specific open spaces. PLEASE RESPOND: deadline 18th September.

Following a ‘technical evaluation’ Bexley Council is pressing ahead with its plan for selling off 26 pieces of open space, and is running a public consultation on moving to dispose of the first four sites. The deadline is Friday 18th September. Please object by filling in the survey here:  https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/openspaces2015

These sites are:

  • Old Farm Park, Sidcup (Eastern Half)

  • West Street Park, Erith

  • Wilde Road East, Erith

  • Wilde Road West, Erith

A similar process will take place regarding the others in due course. Old Manor Way playground has been removed from the sales list after evidence of former dene holes was found. There has also been a well-organised local protest.

Please get friends, relatives, members of your various Friends groups etc. to object as well. These sell-offs would set a bad precedent in Bexley, and for London as a whole.

‘Bexley Wildlife’ followers should note that a strip of Old Farm Park East, which would get built on if sold, is recommended for inclusion in the Sidcup rail linesides Site of Importance for Nature Conservation. If you are not familiar with all the sites do at least object to the sale of Old Farm Park on this basis. The Council hopes to get half the total projected income from the sales from this one alone.  It was only 12 years ago that a belt of trees here,  which would now get the chop, were planted by Trees for Cities with the support of Bexley Council!

You will find that as well as being asked for a view of the sell-off of each individual site, you are confronted with questions about where you think cuts should fall if the Council can’t flog off these sites. It’s fair enough for the Council to spell out the trade-offs from saying no, but it looks like  they’ve moved the goalposts significantly.

The Surveymonkey text talks about saving a cost of £1 million and also claims that if there are no sell-offs then there will be no maintenance, a removal of play equipment and loss of sports pitches. But this is far more apocalyptic than what was said at the previous ‘Budget to 2018’ consult:

  1. Grounds maintenance – parks including allotments: Grass would be cut less frequently and standards of general grounds maintenance would be lower with fewer maintenance visits. Reductions in reactive maintenance in stages of 33% (2015/16) then 55% (2016/17). Sport and playgrounds would be unaffected. (Total saving over four years = £805,000)

It is reasonable to state that you can’t answer the question properly given these conflicting statements. Nor does it look like the Council has fully explored all the alternatives, and we have no way of knowing whether their costings are sound or what detailed assumptions they’re based on. You may wish to point out that there has been no consultation with Bexley Natural Environment Forum and its affiliated Friends Groups, who already do much work on open spaces in the Borough about what more could be done by volunteers to reduce costs, despite Council Leader O’Neill having publicly stated that the Borough will need more such input.

In our view less ‘maintenance’, if done in an informed and targeted way can equal more wildlife, and thereby make for more interesting open spaces of greater education value for children and others. But we were not asked for views on the new grounds maintenance contract either, and even the Council’s own Nature Conservation Officer was not involved in this. Where is the joined up approach?

It is also the case that most of the open spaces slated for sell-off, including the larger roadside verges, have decent-sized trees on them.

Also, of course, land sales deliver only one off income, not a sustained stream of significant amounts of cash.

Ultimately, for the time being at least, if we don’t want cuts elsewhere instead, it is probably necessary to tick the yes to a Council Tax increase option, or at least say that you prefer a combination of some cuts elsewhere and some increase in Council Tax, and/or an increase in fees of some sort in order that these public ‘goods’ do not become the property of private developers.

For other thoughts on points to make visit:

http://www.saveoldfarmpark.org/#!consultation/aqi68

What price the Borough's open spaces as Bexley Council presses ahead with sell-off plans?

What price the Borough’s open spaces as Bexley Council presses ahead with sell-off plans?

Chris Rose, BNEF Vice-chair

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