Martin Heath, Chair, Friends of Belair Park and environmental campaigner.
Those of us who have actually seen how imposed codes of conduct can be used to head off protest about development in public parks received Southwark’s attempts to introduce protocols for friends of parks groups with concern. Parks are being viewed greedily as prime development land and as the population of London soars, pressure to snatch land for housing, other infill or roads can only intensify.
The Friends had welcomed what the protocols had to say about the importance of democracy and inclusiveness (for which they campaign) but were otherwise worried about the potential intrusion into the independence of bodies working to protect public open space.
On the afternoon of June 13, 2013, I met with Rebecca Towers, Southwark’s parks manager at Southwark’s Tooley Street headquarters to discuss the impasse. This was an extremely positive meeting, because Rebecca herself is concerned to ensure a green future for our parks. She reiterated that nobody is going to be required to literally sign the protocols. This is welcome,
because it means that there is no implication of the Council, in effect, providing what amounts to a licence for bodies who sometimes have to provide checks and balances in the face of Council decisions. That would certainly not help the democratic process. We agreed that the
following key points should be included in the protocols document.
● The document is an expression of goodwill and it aims to clarify roles and responsibilities.
In other words, the protocols are not a heavy-handed, contract to be imposed upon groups by
the Council, but are explicitly a set of ideals for co-operating partners.
● The Council respects the role of friends of parks groups as independent
watchdogs/protectors of open space on behalf of the community.
This means that campaigners would not undermine their future capability (should the need ever arise) to combat threats to parks, and that their role is embraced as something positive.
● The parks and open spaces team is committed to the preservation of parks, open spaces and cemeteries within its care.
Our partnership is not unconditional. This commitment is its foundation and rationale.
Our consortium of environmental groups aspires to make a difference not only in Belair Park, but for parks in general. The recognition of parks groups as green watchdogs is radical and we can now refer other councils and parks groups to the Southwark protocols as a benchmark.