Local elections 2018: Green campaigners urge parties to put parks first
PUBLISHED: 07:00 13 April 2018
A green campaign group has urged parties battling for votes in the local elections to protect the borough's parks.
Neil Sinden, director of the London branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), said green spaces across the capital are under threat from developers and pollution.
“We’re extremely concerned,” Mr Sinden said. “London is a space for nature not just business, bustle and buildings.”
The CPRE urged candidates of all parties – seeking votes before elections on May 3 – to protect green spaces and ensure they are “tranquil”.
Tony Leach, of Parks for London – which wants councils to be legally bound to protect such spaces – said: “This is a hot topic. Parks are between the pincers with councils struggling with budget cuts and land needed for building.”
Outlining the Upminster and Cranham Residents Association’s green credentials, Cllr Clarence Barrett said Havering has “fantastic” green spaces, including Thames Chase Community Forest.
He welcomed the fact the council threw out 75 bids to carve out bits of the green belt for development.
Cllr Barrett said he wants to “significantly” increase the number of parks’ Friends groups with 17 out of 100 parks and open spaces currently receiving such support.
He added developers needed to engage with communities “from the start” vowing to promote neighbourhood forums.
But Jeff Stafford, chairman of the Friends of Ingrebourne Valley and Hornchurch Country Park, said councils continue to cut parks’ staff and services.
He said: “They contract out so jobs don’t get done so well. If a park goes to rack and ruin it costs a fortune to bring it back.”
He added teaching children about the value of parks is vital for their future.
Conservative deputy leader of Havering Council Damian White said the party had “an incredibly proud record of investment” in parks and that the council had transformed spaces that looked “down at heel” when the Tories took over the council in 2002.
He said the party wanted to create green spaces in Romford town centre and along the A13. He added the party didn’t just want to protect the green belt, but to extend it.
Jeffrey Tucker, Independent Residents Group leader, said: “It has been one of our main campaigns to protect green space.
“The powers that be have always wanted to build on open spaces but we have defeated them time and again. Residents’ needs must come first by protecting our green space. By doing this we keep pollution down.”
Cllr White described the allegation as a “complete fabrication”.
Darren Wise said East Havering Residents Group pledged to keep parks clean and safe with free parking. He said: “We will try to ensure green belt land is fully protected.”
The Green Party’s Matthew Crowley said protecting green spaces is a “top priority” while Havering Labour candidate Nicholas West guaranteed the party would not build on the green belt.
He said: “Open spaces are a buffer against life threatening air pollution.”
He added Labour has a “good” record in opposing building on green spaces.
“We have campaigned strongly against the Tory/Residents Association coalition proposal to build on Dovers Green in South Hornchurch and their decision not to protect it as a village green. The so called cash-strapped council managed to find £100,000 for barristers to crush residents defending it,” he said.
But Cllr White said evidence showed the site was not village green but land owned by Havering which could be developed.
“The council followed due process and has protected a community asset for future generations,” he said.
Liberal Democrat Ian Sanderson backed London mayor Sadiq Khan’s call for the capital to be awarded national park city status to ensure green spaces are preserved.
But Lawrence Webb, leader of Havering’s Ukip group, blamed immigration for putting pressure on the environment.
He said: “More people and more cars just increase traffic and pollution around parks. Immigration levels are bound to encroach on open spaces.”