Last week I took a stroll through Battersea Park in the pale afternoon sunlight. It was so tranquil. The park has a wonderful Victorian charm (it was opened in 1858) and plenty of variety, with the Peace Pagoda, the Festival Gardens and the lake.
I found the Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth sculptures close to the lake.
On the far side of the lake there are treefuls of herons and cormorants.
All very pleasant and enjoyable. But this is set to end.
Wandsworth Council’s planning committee has agreed, by seven votes to three (Conservative-Labour split), to allow the Formula E international motor-racing championship to vroom around the park during the summer. Most of the park will be closed for the two days of the event, but much of it will also be closed before and after. The park will be converted into a racing circuit with fencing and safety barriers, and all the clutter that goes with hospitality, advertising, sponsorship and broadcasting, not to mention the noise and potential damage to trees (for which the park is famed).
The Open Spaces Society, Save Battersea Park, the Friends of Battersea Park, the London Wildlife Trust, CPRE London and the Wandsworth and Battersea Societies were among those who submitted 577 objections.
The race took place for the first time last year. The park is grade II* listed and the head of the Heritage Lottery Fund, Stuart Hobley, has expressed concern that the event is to be repeated. The HLF awarded a grant the park a grant of £7.5 million in 2004 and does not want to see the excellent improvements degraded. He has told the council it cannot site the ‘Media Centre’ on the wildflower meadow, as the ‘meadow was a deliberate design feature to manage the contrast between the 1951 Festival Gardens and the earlier formal 1850s landscape’. He is also concerned that the application does not refer to the Heritage Impact Assessment commissioned for last year’s event.
Ahead of last year’s event HLF had set out a number of requirements to ensure that after the race the park would be returned to its post-award condition, but Mr Hobley does not believe that these requirements will be met by the current application.
Wandsworth Council’s community services spokesman, Councillor Jonathan Cook, has said that the council learnt a lot from last year’s experience and will aim to ensure the park does not suffer. But local people do not believe this. They point out that Councillor Cook said this last year, but there was construction work for 12 hours a day, with lorries and generators. There were helicopters during the event, and access was denied over the summer to people who most need the park—those without gardens, those with disabilities, the elderly and children.
All so that private enterprises can profit at the public’s expense.
The objectors are considering judicial review of the council’s decision. The Greater London Parks and Open Spaces Order 1967, which is intended to protect parks for the people, outlaws events which occupy more than one-tenth of the open space. There is a big question-mark over whether this law would be breached by the Formula E event.