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Bonkers Blog September 2015

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27 September - They ignore residents at their peril

Lesnes AbbeyWhile Crossrail powers on with the largest civil engineering project in Europe and Peabody imaginatively transforms the Green Chain walk, Bexley council still shows no sign of replacing the Lesnes Abbey Visitor Centre it knocked down nine months ago.

Last Friday a couple of men could be seen scratching around in the earth but of the promised rebuild there is no sign.

Bexley council seems to regards its parks as a liability on the one hand but also a cash cow that might keep its financial head above water if it can get away with it.

We will almost certainly see the council approve their park closure plans before the year is out. The Old Farm Park consultation process ended two weeks ago and provoked 1,361 responses, none of them agreeing with Bexley council’s avowed policy. When it is ignored, democracy in Bexley will reach a new low point.

Not only have Conservative councillors Slaughter and Leitch nailed their disapproving colours to the mast, James Brokenshire MP put his weight behind the park saving campaign too.

I still don’t give much for their chances. It will be a sad day when Teresa O’Neill OBE’s (Oak & Beech Eliminator) mismanagement brings the borough to a new low point and those who saw it all coming will have to console themselves with the thought that even more people will recognise a disaster when they see one.

James Brokenshire is not the only local politician to express disquiet, nor is Old Farm Park the only open space under threat.

A few miles to the north open spaces in Erith are under threat too and given the huge number building projects, both commercial and residential, that that town is accepting for the benefit of the whole borough’s tax base, it can ill afford to lose any of its presently green spaces.

Labour councillor Abena Oppong-Asare has made her feelings felt as follows…

I am writing to you as an elected Labour councillor for Erith Ward in response to the council’s public survey regarding proposals for possible redevelopment of four open spaces. My response is on behalf of my Erith residents regarding the release of West Street small park and has been developed following discussions with Erith residents.

I appreciate the Council is facing substantial financial challenges, but I strongly oppose the removal of green spaces.

Public Health England statistical data published in June 2015 shows that in Bexley, 22·% (576) of children in Year 6 are classified as obese, worse than the average for England and I feel that keeping open spaces will help reduce obesity in the area. I recognise that the council has been trying to tackle obesity in adults and set up an adult weight management service in September 2014. We also need to tackle the problem of childhood obesity.

Public Health England has carried out research which has shown that over half of people living in deprived areas would take more exercise if green spaces were improved. Furthermore, good quality and well maintained parks are more likely to be used and local residents report higher ‘neighbourhood satisfaction’ and better health as a result.

A lot of regeneration is taking place in Erith. Bexley College Erith Campus opened a year ago. Erith Quarry received planning permission from Bexley Council in March for their development and there is possibility that the former Riverside Baths might be turned into flats. It is therefore vital that Erith maintains what is left of its green public space.

I also have grave concerns about the way the survey has been conducted. Question 5 of the survey gives very limited options to residents objecting the closure of any of the parks. The council has many more options than the three mentioned and is misleading ones listed. I also don’t believe that it clarifies the reason to keep West Street small park.

The questions asked are as follows:
• Substantial reductions in ground maintenance, which would result in unmaintained parks, the removal of children’s playgrounds and the loss of sports pitches.
• £1 million reduction per year in spending on other Council services.
• A Council tax rise of more than 1.99% (subject to a local referendum)

I urge the Council to remove its proposal to dispose of West Street small park and work with local residents, community groups and ward councillors to establish a way of keeping the park in public use while achieving savings for the council.

I would like to conclude by saying that green open spaces are in scarce supply in our area and that West Street small park provides a valuable contribution to the street scene and environment in this deprived area of our borough.

I would also like to thank you for giving me and residents in Erith the opportunity to add our comments.

I look forward to receiving a reply to my comments.

Yours sincerely
Councillor Abena Oppong-Asare
Erith Ward

The next couple of months are sure to prove very interesting to council watchers.


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