The 2019 events programme is taking shape, with a range of talks, debates, schools, tours and walks currently being slotted into next year's calendar. To make sure you know when booking opens for each of our talks, sign up for our newsletter.There are three main themes for next year - Engineering and Infrastructure, and London's High Streets are two, and here Peter Murray talks about the third, Parks and Open Spaces. London is a greener city than most. Our squares, parks and green belt are sources of urban envy. Mayor Sadiq Khan has nailed his colours to the mast to make London the “greenest global city” - planting more trees in our streets as well as tackling climate change, reducing waste and cleaning the air. He is backing the idea of London as a National Park City, which will help all Londoners have free and easy access to high-quality green space - a similar aim that the London Society had in the 1930s when it pushed for the creation of the Metropolitan Green Belt. But in spite of these positive policies, the capital’s existing parks are under threat from Government cost cutting, severely impacting on local authorities’ maintenance budgets. At the same time there is local resistance to the increasing number of events in parks, which provide valuable income but upset local residents because they restrict access, are sometimes noisy and damage planting. So we are planning a series of talks, visits and an ideas competition around the subject of Parks and Open Spaces. We’ll be asking borough politicians about the problems facing Councils where budgets have been cut by 47% in real terms since 2010. In the past four years spending on open spaces, allowing for inflation, has fallen by 18% – with a drop of more than 10% in 2014/15 alone. Local parks should be the pride and joy of neighbourhoods, but without the money to provide sufficient love and care they soon lose their attraction.
The use of our green spaces is often contested as budgets become tighter and commercial events are seen as a key source of income. Research has shown that Greenwich and Lewisham councils, who share Blackheath, each allow events to be held in the park for 90 days. With an extra seven days required by the London marathon, full public access to the heath can be restricted for up to 187 days – more than half the year. Figures show that Battersea Park hosted approximately 99 events in 1991, compared with more than 600 by 2016. After two races, Wandsworth residents defeated plans for Formula E electric car racing in the park in 2017. How do park authorities get the right balance? The Open Spaces Society (founded 1885, a few years older than LonSoc!) has called for a new policy to save areas of green. ’Boroughs should dedicate any green spaces in their ownership as town greens, under the Commons Act 2006. This will protect the land in perpetuity and give local people rights of informal recreation there.’ We’ll ask the Society to give us an update on their progress. We sometimes forget how lucky we are with three regional parks on our doorstep: the Lee Valley Park which was created just over 50 years ago as a result of Abercrombie’s Greater London Plan, The Colne Valley Park was set up at about the same time and covers over 40 square miles. It is the first real taste of countryside to the west of London. The Valley hosts a mosaic of farmland, woodland and water with 200 miles of river and canal and over 60 lakes. Less known is the Wandle Valley running from Wandsworth to Croydon along the banks of the River Wandle. The Valley has a remarkable industrial and cultural heritage, described as “Europe’s hardest working river” in the 19th Century. It has inspired artists and makers from William Morris to the growing creative designer-maker movement. The Wandle Valley Regional Park Trust is piecing together the places and spaces to link together 40 green spaces and 12 nature reserves covering some 900 hectares. The Society will organise tours of each of the parks. We’ll also look at Common Land in London. Curiously, the City Corporation manages common land at Ashtead, Coulsdon, Farthing, Kenley, Riddlesdown, spring Park and West Wickham. How does that work? How much common land is there in London? Can we all graze our sheep upon them? We’ll also revive the LonSoc’s traditional role of promulgating and ask our members to come up with ideas as how parks can meet the needs of visitors, residents and fund raising. Do we need to redesign layouts, access and planting to reduce the conflict between the needs of different users. Should we change the present ad hoc arrangements? Might we even build new facilities in the parks? The programme will help us enjoy London’s magnificent green spaces, to appreciate the difficulties in managing them as well as providing some ideas about that might be improved in the future. Talksinclude: