Hornfair Park BMX row: How to lose friends and alienate locals

You might have read over on the Charlton Champion about the kerfuffle surrounding Greenwich Council’s plans to build a BMX track in Hornfair Park. It got planning permission on 25 May, so it’s going ahead.

On paper, this should be a good thing, for it will provide a new distraction for young people in a locality where there’s pretty much nothing to do. However, many locals were concerned about it attracting more crime to an area that’s already a drug-dealing hot spot. The park’s seen better days, and many complain that crack dealers use the unlocked open space after dark.

Indeed, an idea which should have been universally welcomed instead managed to anger and alienate a large proportion of the park’s neighbours, who complained about a lack of consultation and felt the whole thing was a done deal.

How did this happen, though? In typical Greenwich fashion, it begins, and ends, with the council’s reliance on its weekly propaganda rag as its main channel of communication.

A fortnight-long “consultation” kicked off with a glowing front page story in Greenwich Time, showing leader Chris Roberts and then-deputy mayor Jim Gillman posing with the obligatory smiling kids. Jim Gillman is also one of the local councillors for Hornfair Park, so arguably should have thought twice before publicly backing the scheme. (He’s also the man who changed his mind about opposing his own mayor-making ceremony.)

Further information was restricted to a few information boards in selected locations around the borough. No leaflets were sent through people’s doors.

Many locals found out about the consultation long after it began. Of the 111 responses, more came from SE9 postcodes at least a mile away, and from addresses outside the borough, than the SE3 and SE7 postcodes immediately adjacent to Hornfair Park.

Of those 111 responses to the official consultation, 104 were in favour. By contrast, 577 people signed a petition against the scheme, and 149 took the time to write letters of objection.

Further eyebrows were raised when, in the run-up to the council planning meeting, the track proposals featured in Greenwich Time once again – with a front page splash declaring “it’s wheely great!” Should a planning authority really be publishing this kind of thing in the run up to making a decision on a contentious proposal?

Just as odd are some of the letters of support submitted to the planning board. They appear to have actually been written to support a claim to the mayor for funding, but were included as supporting documents to the planning application. The Access Sport charity thought it a fine idea, as did Lewisham Council and Bexley Council, as well as London & Quadrant housing association.

Five local schools also thought it was a top idea. Great minds think alike? We’ll see. Here’s what Barnaby Ash, headteacher of Blackheath Bluecoat school had to say:

Olympic champion? Subject leader? Multi-sport hub? All impressive language. So what did the Eltham Foundation School (the old Eltham Green school) have to say?

School sport manager Jane Simber was so impressed with the scheme, she penned exactly the same letter as Blackheath Bluecoat. Even down to the errors in the third and final paragraphs. What did Kidbrooke School have to say, then?

I wonder what headteacher Tricia Jaffe says to her pupils about plagiarism? Meanwhile, over at Charlton Manor Primary School

Yup, the same. Also, the same letter from Charlton School, too, right down to that mistake.

Now, not having attended the meeting, I don’t know what kind of discussion was had by the planning board. But after such a limited consultation process, and glowing coverage of the scheme in the council’s weekly newspaper, what confidence can local residents have in a Greenwich Council process that sees identical letters submitted by schools – most of which are under control of Greenwich Council – in support of a scheme backed by the same Greenwich Council?

So that’s 500 locals who’ve seen what they think is a done deal approved right under their noses. There’s talk of getting a judicial review of the process. It’s certainly possible to argue that Greenwich sailed very close to the wind here.

This isn’t about whether or the scheme was the right scheme, it’s how it was handled. If you’re wanting to build an oil refinery, it’s understandable that you may want to steamroller over objections from local residents. But if you’re their local council, shouldn’t you act in a more careful manner?

The real losers could end up being the three Labour councillors who represent the area – including Jim Gillman, first seen endorsing the scheme alongside those happy kids.

With Conservatives plotting revenge after losing two of their local seats last year, if those 500 residents are still angry come the next election, all three councillors – or whoever gets selected in their place – could end up paying the price for what was carried out in their names.

24 comments

  1. Darryl,

    Thanks for the detective work on this. Hornfair Park is some way from me so I have no particular axe to grind when it comes to the track, but the cut-and-pasted ‘letter of support’ is taking the piss.

    Any councillor wish to comment?

  2. I was under the impression that 1,276 letters had been posted through neighbour’s doors. This was challenged at the meeting by campaigners, I believe they said it was only between 700-800 that had been sent. The rest found out by actual campaign leaflets. Is this not the case then?

  3. The formal planning process would require a certain number of letters to be sent out. (And often, that doesn’t seem to work.) That comes *after* the consultation period, which is what’s under question here.

  4. Sorry you’ve lost me Darryl.
    So the locals get notified twice, firstly, with an initial leaflet and then with a proper letter that they can reply to (in this case 1,276 letters)?

  5. No, they only got the formal planning letters. No leaflets from the council.

    (unless I’ve been misinformed).

  6. Okay interesting.
    So what’s in question is that those 1,276 formal planning letters, the one’s that people can respond to, were sent too late to be part of this consultation period. I get’ya…..I think.

  7. No – the 1,276 formal letters are part of a different process.

    The consultation comes beforehand and feeds into that planning process – so the planning board can make a decision satisfied that all relevant parties have been properly consulted. Which may not have happened here.

    This Word document (a “statement of community involvement”) explains the consultation process that went on, and would have formed part of the planning application.

  8. Are there any more planning stages that could potentially affect the lido part of the development to get through now? I’m not sure if the whole thing (BMX, lido, etc) is being treated as one development for planning purposes.

  9. Any smart Headteacher wanting to actually look as if he / she were supporting the scheme would surely have put some of the letter (if not all) into his / her own words. Is it possible they felt pressured to send the letters, but all sent the least helpful version ie the identical one. It’s a shameful thing either way.

  10. Neil – It’s being treated as two separate developments. The lido app was renewed a few months back, and the lease has now passed to Greenwich Leisure Limited after the Open Waters scheme collapsed.

  11. Dear Daryl and other Charlton Champion members,

    The consultation was actually run before the proposal therefore they, Greenwich Council, put posters and leaflets in three places. Blackheath library, Old Dover Road SE3, Woolwich Library, Calderwood Street, SE18 and Charlton House, Charlton SE7. All of which are totally out of the area of Hornfair Park. This is where they got their support from plus the schools that they have involved in the whole process (as you have seen the letters posted by Daryl). Also the first GT with Jim Gilman and Cllr Roberts was not even delivered to anyone in the surrounding area of the park. Several residents had informed me they did not receive the GT, how convenient!

    Going back to the Lido and ‘Open Waters’ did you know that this company was actually only owned by one man, and when you check out his accounts he only has £2.00 in the bank, how then did Greenwich Council allow this person to take on a multi million pound deal? When this fell through how did Greenwich Leisure get the contract to continue with this? Is it not necessary and a legal requirement to go out to tender? The whole process has been a fast and I am totally disgusted with their behaviour. When we first started our campaign and presented our petition our two Clls, Jim Gilman included, did not want to hand them in on our behalf and when we delivered them to the Town Hall as we were told to do so they were not picked up and taken in to the meeting. Lucky thing is that I had covered myself and made sure someone else got a copy and handed them in. There has been a hell of a lot of underhanded tactics done by our so called law abiding Cllrs I do hope they are not voted in next year at the local elections.

  12. Toni – I was at the council meeting and saw one of those councillors hand in the petition on the campaign’s behalf; if I remember correctly, the petition had been given to a Conservative councillor in error, possibly by council staff (possible confusion of two Councillor Fletchers).

    The Open Waters fiasco is another story…

  13. The development of Hornfair Park as an Olympic Legacy Sports Hub will be of enormous benefit to residents of the Borough. Clearly the concerns of residents will need to be taken on board. However our research on other BMX sites have helped us to understand how important they have been to local communities. Constant complaint about the improper use of the existing Park will be eradicated over time. All the evidence suggests that populating Parks with activities helps to reduce crime and Anti Social behaviour. Parents in the vicinity of the Park have complained for years about the lack of facilities for young people. I believe those who sought to persuade people not to support the facility misrepresented the objective of the Council to secure outdoor facilities for young people. It was supported by local schools,the Safer Neighbourhood Team and the majority of the Planning Board which is cross party. We will be working with Friends of Greenwich Parks to establish a Friends Group in Hornfair and I believe that we can deliver a real benefit to the area in the longer term.

  14. Hello John.

    I believe those who sought to persuade people not to support the facility misrepresented the objective of the Council to secure outdoor facilities for young people.

    But….

    It was supported by local schools,the Safer Neighbourhood Team and the majority of the Planning Board which is cross party.

    …. does presenting five identical letters to a planning board really represent the support of local schools? Does it not look suspicious in any way?

    And as for the planning board, it may be cross-party, but there are only two parties represented in Greenwich borough – and only two Tories on a nine-member planning board. And one of those abstained. Sure, it’s legally fine, but can you not see where outsiders might start to question the idea that there’s some kind of political consensus?

    . We will be working with Friends of Greenwich Parks to establish a Friends Group in Hornfair

    … are there enough “friends” who’ll trust the council after this?

    This isn’t muck-racking – there’s enough here to make those outside the traditions of the town hall worry about the council’s procedures and attitude to those who question them.

  15. I remain totally confident that the Hornfair Sports Hub will be a success. We need to work with those who remain to be convinced. I am encouraged by the fact that very few people have responded to this debate. Of course people will disagree but the role of Councillors is to try and improve t he quality of life of those we represent. Do we make mistakes along the way-of course. We must try harder. Yes there are many people who want to join the Friends Group.

  16. I can categorically tell you that the petition was not given out by mistake to another member of the party at the meeting due to the incompetency of the staff at the Town Hall. The members of staff at the Town Hall hold no responsibility for this. I passed the petition on to the opposition to make sure that this petition was handed in. Why? Because we were already informed that they did not want to hand it in for us nor did they want to represent us because they were in favour of the plans for the BMX. Cllr Hayley Fletcher told us to leave it at the reception area of the Town Hall and she would pick it before the meeting which I may add again she refused to do so. They cannot get out of this one.

    I would like to pick up on Cllr Fahy regarding the ‘Friends of the park’ group. We as a campaign group conducted a survey around the crime in the park in October 2010, also informing Alan Pett of Parks that we as a group wanted to set up the ‘Friends of the park group’ for Hornfair Park. We were informed by Alan Pett that he would start this in April 2011 and he also reported that they had already tried to set up a group and there was a ‘lack of interest’. I had already informed Alan Pett that we had a strong group of 12 people who live around the park area (me not included) who wanted to be a part of the group. Now don’t get me wrong is this not support enough and valued interest from the locals. When Alan Pett did not carry out this task in April we carried it out ourselves and now have a strong group called ‘Friend’s of Hornfair Park’ however, is it not correct to say that you have refused to acknowledge this group as members of ‘Friends of the park groups’ and therefore are going to start up another one which does not include those locals that are already registered. We were up and running while all these issues of the BMX proposals were going ahead and still no one wants to listen to the people that it affects.

  17. Dear Toni,

    I have never and will never refuse to present a petition on behalf of residents.

    There was considerable confusion on the night. I went to the reception to collect the petition but they were not there. In the meeting Cllr Spencer Drury indicated he had a petition which might have been the one I was waiting for. I presented that to the meeting formally which is recorded in the minutes which are publicly available on the website. As I left the Council meeting that night a porter handed me a second letter with signatures. I informed the relevant officers of this immediately and asked them to hold off putting the petition presented to the Council to other officers until all signatures were received. As you are aware, an extension was agreed with the relevant officers so every single signature could be presented for consideration. The porters at the town hall are excellent and I do not believe they did anything wrong.

    As a councillor this issue has been particularly difficult to deal with. On the one hand I have residents who are concerned there is nothing for the kids of the area to do, on the other, residents who oppose the BMX track. At all times we have tried to balance the two which has involved discussing the plans with officers to ensure that the proposals do not create more problems but actually help us to tackle the existing issues with the park by getting more supervision. We cannot tolerate the park being used for crime. The proposals were agreed by the Planning Board but the matter does not end there, we must closely monitor the situation and take swift action if any problems do arise as a result. You have my word on this that I will do all I can to ensure that residents concerns are raised and dealt with appropriately.

    Darryl is right when he questions whether residents will elect us again next time if there is widespread discontent with the investment in the park. That is a real risk. But we will work tirelessly with residents on this issue and I hope that once the park is regenerated and is in use by residents their fears will be allayed. If not, then I expect residents to hold us to account for that.

    Hayley

  18. Interesting to see that Councillor Fahy is ‘encouraged by the fact that very few people have responded to this debate’.

    This is a blog and not a forum for interacting with each and every resident in Charlton given that many will not know about the blog, nor perhaps have the time nor the technology. If Councillor Fahy bases his opinion on whether or not something local is supported or not by checking out these comments, then clearly he needs to be enlightened about how to actually engage with people.

    I haven’t seen a copy of GT for ooh, at least 3 months but that may be due to the other residents in my block getting there before me to snap it up for a good read. Hmmmm.

    Anyway, given that I only heard mention of this BMX park from reading 853/Charlton Champion I decided to have a wee look at Hornfair park where the proposed track is meant to go and wandered up there a few weeks ago. I was actually doing a 17 mile walk taking in much of the Green Chain Walk and so the park was on my way. Of all the parts of my route (which included Deptford and Woolwich) this was the most abandoned and unloved aspect. It struck me that with a busy football tournament going on that day in Charlton Park and a number of family groups happily enjoying the facilities in both Maryon Park and Maryon Wilson Park, that this ‘out of the way’ area was the least suitable for a BMX track. I accessed it through the Rose garden (with a good view of the lido and its barbed wire surround), before wandering through and spotting about 2 people and a dog using it. If you had asked me, and this a totally neutral opinion as I can claim no interest as a resident given that I live at the bottom of Charlton Church Lane and I do not have children to benefit from the track, it is quite simply a poor site for this facility. That the track might prove popular with some is not being disputed but the manner in which it has been shoehorned into this particular spot is most definitely being questioned.

    How about these poor teenagers with nothing to do start a gardening club and create a haven for people in the area to enjoy on the site of Hornfair Park? Wouldn’t that be a lovely happy compromise – gets them outdoors, teaches them skills, can only be done in daylight so discourages noise in the evenings and provides a park that other members of the community can appreciate in relative calm. Parks are fantastic facilities and each one serves a different purpose. To my untrained eye, one surrounded by houses should be for quiet enjoyment as opposed to noisy sports. The teenagers more interested in riding BMXs than looking at pretty herbaceous borders can perhaps do that elsewhere.

    Maybe Councillor Fahy needs to appreciate that the debate is about where the track is being sited and how that came to be a done deal (fascinating insight from Darryl into council machinations and local teachers not spotting their own glaring errors; God help the kids they teach!), and not simply the track itself.

  19. If it was at the Town Hall Cllr Fletcher then why did you not ask for it before you entered into the meeting and if it was there why was it produced after the meeting. The petition that was produced was a copy of the originals left at the Town Hall. An extension was given so that we were able to produce more signatures (as other members of the community were collecting on our behalf) at the Lido Planning Board meeting which is normal procedure anyway. Therefore, we did not need to ask for an extension because you can produce items at the meeting and they can be presented to the board. Which, I might add is what we did, this time, at the BMX planning board meeting. What I am upset about is that our 3 Cllrs for this Ward did not even bother to attend the BMX planning Board meeting.
    I represent a majority of the community that live in and out of the area around Horn Fair Park. People that have a real concern for the park and the destruction of this so called ‘Olympic Legacy’ will cause. To be quite honest I am fed up of hearing that ‘there is nothing in the area for young people’. There is a Lido that Greenwich Council has allowed to deteriorate, there is a paddling pool, there are tennis courts, basket ball courts, football fields, and not the only ones in the borough. There are football clubs, tennis clubs, cricket clubs, art clubs, there are skate and BMX parks already in place. How can you justify saying there is nothing for young people. A lot of the clubs even allow people to join for free if they are on low incomes and on benefit.

    What I will put to you is what about children and young people who do not wish to have or use a BMX dirt track. What about the facilities for the older generation, what is there for them? What about facilities for families with very young children who will not be able to use this BMX dirt track. And last of all what about the generation of the population that do not get considered at all, people with disabilities, what is there for them in Horn Fair Park and your ‘Olympic Legacy’ that you keep blurting about! All I hear is that are no facilities for young people even though you now have the funding to have bike clubs in schools and by the newspaper article where they have their BMX kits it looks as though they were riding their BMX’s quite well without a dirt track in sight! You can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink!

    I do hope that it is beneficial and that it works and it is not a disaster however, we will hold you all accountable for this ‘white elephant’ if it goes belly up.

  20. I couldn’t agree with Darrly more. This isnt about wanting to stop progress and give the kids something to do, its about making sure that big decisions that effect our neighbourhood are made fairly. Copy and paste letters of support, Council media promotionsin GT of a Council scheme before the very same Council decide the approval, and questionable consultation processes all show that we are not listened to and the careers and reputations of council managers and councillors are put above the voice of the people.A judicial review process seems the right approach, even if it just forces them to review how they went about this.Shameful behaviour.

Comments are closed.