I went to the London Green Spaces Friends Group Network meeting last night at City Hall. The room was packed, with representatives from Friends Groups across London.
The meeting started with a talk from a representative from the Open Spaces Society on campaigning to protect green spaces from development and threat of sell-off. She identified two key threats:
* The pro development approach of central Government and cuts to council budgets put the pressure on green spaces. Councils see a sell-off as a way to generate much needed cash and a way to save on the cost of maintenance.
* The Growth and Infrastructure Bill will stop people registering land as a village green if it is earmarked for development in any way (regardless of whether or not there has been a formal planning application). It will also erode the requirement for Compulsory Purchase Orders to be scrutinised by Special Parliamentary Procedure. Instead, Eric Pickles or his successor will have the power to decide whether a CPO goes ahead or not.
This means that if we want to register any land in Waltham Forest or Hackney as a village green then we need to do so quickly. The bill is now in committee stage in the House of Lords, so it's not far from Royal Assent unless it is derailed and it looks unlikely that this will happen. I think it is areas that don't have any other form of protection that we need to look at, so not Leyton Marsh but is there anywhere else? And, if we do identify anywhere, it might be sensible to join the Open Spaces Society (£45 per year) so that we can call on their help. Perhaps an item for discussion at the next meeting on 11 Feb?
The rest of her talk focused what makes a good campaign. Things that jumped out were:
* Get councillors out in the green space for positive photo opportunities. I wonder if this is something we could factor in to our discussions about the pledge, to try and co-opt the councillors and show they why they should care?
* Try to stop it ever getting as far as the planning committee, because they you have to contend with a potential appeal to the Planning Inspectorate if you do manage to get it thrown out at the planning committee stage. This is obviously what we're doing with the ice rink plans, so hurrah everyone :-)
* Never be sucked into a process of a dialogue with the other side that they manage. Perhaps a salient reminder before our meeting with Sean Dawson on Thursday? We need to stay in control of our conversation.
* There is a new designation, 'local green space', for places that haven't got any other form of protection.
Next, Laurie Elks spoke about the LVRPA and the precept (the money that all the councils in London pay to the LVRPA). I think the general feeling was that we need to find another way to fund the LVRPA but that there isn't an easy option on the table. Should the national government pay? Should the GLA pay (which is really the councils paying but in a slightly less direct way)? Interesting points made included:
* It seems as if the London Councils will get together to discuss the precept at some point in the future.
* Would tidying up the seeming duplication of functions in the executive save money?
* Are the LVRPA trying to bundle up as much as possible into a trust to save on business rates? And what would this mean for the future of the park?
* The LVRPA have been poor at grabbing pots of funding for landscaping initiatives because they don't have a landscaping team any more. It therefore shows more interest in biodiversity than landscaping, and possibly because biodiversity is cheaper. Personally I think the park should focus on biodiversity over landscaping. I prefer the concept of re-wilding over connecting spaces.
* The Royal Parks are currently funded by central Government and they are mainly in the south west of London. Perhaps it is only fair for the north east of London to have centrally funded green spaces too. There is a discussion about the funding for the Royal Parks moving to the GLA. It was also pointed out that the LVRP costs much less to run that the Royal Parks and it is much bigger, so perhaps offers much better value for money.
* There was mention of the idea of splitting the venues and the green space management into two distinct areas of jurisdiction, so the lines don't get so blurred.
* Melanie from a Lambeth group wanted the meeting to state that we are against money going to the LVRPA in these austere times when the boroughs need the money themselves. I offered that I thought a strong statement like that might split the meeting and pit friends groups against each other.
* There was a suggestion that the LVRPA hold pop concerts to raise money and there was loud discontent.
* Laurie proposed 'highly conditional love' as the best solution. He will put it more eloquently than me, but something along the lines of, 'If you don't do your job well - focus on then we will campaign for the removal of the precept'.
The conclusion, from the Chairman, was that the LVRP is an important green space and it needs to be funded, so the first thing we can say is that we object to the current funding mechanisms. Secondly, any money that individual councils don't have to spend on the LVRP should be ring-fenced for green spaces in their boroughs, and local people can campaign for this to happen in their own boroughs. And, thirdly, that we should campaign for the LVRP to be better managed.
Finally, there was a round-up of other business:
* Love Parks Week is 27 July to 4 August and there is a website to register all events taking place. Should we plan something? Perhaps the project Jo has been working on?
* A National Parks Petition will be coming our way in due course and we are encourage to spread far and wide.
* A picnic near Parliament was proposed for Love Parks Week, but many felt that they would be focusing on events in their own boroughs so I don't know if it will go ahead.
* The date of the next meeting will probably by 15 April 2013.
Love to you all.