Decisions in principle to sell some sites – including Old Farm Park – to be taken as early as this week, as process moves faster than expected for 5 of Bexley’s parks and green spaces. Campaigners urged to attend meeting.
‘Technical evaluations’ of five of the sites slated for potential sell-off have been completed and reports are now going to be presented to the Cabinet meeting this Tuesday (July 21st). The meeting starts at 7.30p.m. at the Council Offices, and it would be good if campaigners can help keep up the pressure by attending, though the open spaces part is some way down the agenda .
Those five sites are
• Old Farm Park (Eastern part)
• Old Manor Way Playground
• West Street small park
• Wilde Rd East
• Wilde Rd West.
Councillors – one of whom professed to being ‘horrified’ at the schedule change – and others had been told that these would not be completed until late summer, and have had to move quickly to respond. Old Farm Park campaigners had to rush forward their petition in order to hit last week’s full Council meeting.
It will be important not to be lulled into a false sense of security over the likely outcome that Old Manor Way Playground will be removed from the list of sites being considered for potential disposal. The Council is citing a denehole and the ‘substantial cost’ of relocating sewers and play equipment as reasons for this. The recommendation being put before the Cabinet on the other4 sites is that it should press ahead with plans to sell them.
The Council is proposing to hold an as yet unspecified form of consultation on the 4 sites being recommended for disposal from late July to mid-September. We note that this time of year always produces something of a fall-off in the profile of ‘political’ matters in the media and elsewhere, that a lot of people go on holiday, and also that the sale of the Old Farm site was predicted to raise half the estimated proceeds from the sell-off as a whole.
The outcome of the technical evaluation on the remaining 22 sites is still scheduled for autumn of 2015.
The Council Cabinet papers confirm what was said in a response to previous Bexley Natural Environment Forum probing, which was that biodiversity issues are not being considered in any of these ‘evaluations’. Part of Old Farm Park has been recommended by London Wildlife Trust for inclusion in the Sidcup Rail Linesides Site of Importance for Nature Conservation in a now eighteen month old document that still ‘conveniently’ held up in the wrong sort of ‘long grass’.
The statement that ‘The environmental impact of any proposed disposals will be taken into account through the planning process having due regard to policies within the borough’s development plan which is made up of the London Plan, the Bexley Core Strategy and the remaining saved policies within the Council’s Unitary Development Plan.’ inspires less than zero confidence given the Council’s dismissive attitude to wildlife in recent planning decisions. Councillors and Officers well know that by the time something has got as far as a planning meeting it is way more likely to get voted through than not.
Whilst it is acknowledged that campaigners have suggested altering management regimes (to save money and increase wildlife), there is no assessment of this possibility whatsoever in the Cabinet sell-off documentation.
The claim in the papers that ‘There are no specific Health and Well-being implications arising from this report.’ is presumably an attempt to evade all the evidence about the general physical and mental benefits of green spaces, and is all of a piece with the Council’s failure to take into account the cumulative impact of open spaces losses in planning decisions.
If the Council decides it still wants to press ahead with sales after the summer consultation, then the law requires that it advertises its intention to dispose of open space land by placing a public notice in a local newspaper for two consecutive weeks and to consider any objections to the disposal that may be made. In exceptional cases a public inquiry may be necessary:
• the open space land is the main use of the land;
• there are numerous objections;
• the objections relate to the loss of the open space use of the land rather than the proposed use;
• it is considered that the issues raised could not reasonably and practicably be dealt with by the General Purposes Committee without recourse to a public inquiry.
Campaigners will also note that under ‘Property and Asset Management Implications’ we are told that ‘It may be that the Council decides that, once the disposal process has been completed, it is in the borough’s better interests to retain some of the sites to be developed internally, in response to the Growth Agenda.’ The Council’s 20th century time-warp of a ‘Growth Agenda’ includes its plan to increase the number of housing units built in the Borough between now and 2026/30 from the 4,500 agreed in the Core Strategy as recently as 2011, to 22,000, a policy for which it has no electoral mandate since it was not mentioned in the Tory manifestos for the 2012 GLA or 2014 Bexley Borough elections.
The Cabinet papers relating to the proposed sell-offs can be downloaded at Item 7 here:
Chris Rose. Vice-chair, Bexley Natural Environment Forum