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COMMENT: Pimping-out Parks

September 7, 2016 2:01 PM

We hear there's a proposal to build an open-air theatre in Brockwell Park. Only a proposal, mind. And advanced by a theatre-loving local in Herne Hill with claims that this £10 Million project would be beneficial to community groups and an artistic encouragement to those on low incomes. A win-win idea, surely, that ticks lots of boxes?

Except that the idea that has just surfaced - and that is merely being floated publicly to test opinion - apparently has been doing the rounds at Labour-run Lambeth Council for some time. And already has some traction, it seems. Half a dozen potential sites have already been identified, for instance. That alone should start some alarm bells ringing.

For it clearly chimes with the current Labour Council's policy of pimping-out services to the highest bidder. Parks and open spaces are already groaning under the weight of pop concerts being staged on every spare blade of grass in the borough - and there are more of them to come apparently.

Never mind the noise nuisance to neighbours and the fall-out from drunken revellers from all over the country who descend on Lambeth and cause mayhem. Nor yet the parts of our parks and open spaces that are no-go areas for weeks and months before, during and afterwards.

It's all about the money, money, money you see. Because Lambeth is such a poor inner city council that hardly knows where its next Town Hall is coming from. Umm actually it does - it's getting into bed with a property developer to build a multi-story one.

There's a worryingly consistent theme here. Pushing people out of their neglected council homes to build expensive luxury apartments overlooking - er - Brockwell Park. Putting-on headline music acts at pop-concerts in the same parks. And now theatrical performances put-on by various West End artistic luminaries.

There's no real paucity of culture, either. Lambeth already has a great artistic tradition. There's the South Bank with its world-class concert halls, art galleries and the National Theatre. And at a local level there are various highly regarded theatre groups - some of whom struggle financially. Do they really need more competition? There are also under-used purpose-built venues like Gala Bingo, formerly the Streatham Hill Theatre, that may come forward in the near future.

So given this background, you might ask, is there a pressing need for such commercial enterprises in our parks and open spaces? For Lambeth Council there is.There's a term for this - sweating assets.

But these are not the Council's assets to sweat. They were generously donated for the public good, like libraries, by far-sighted Victorian philanthropists not today's myopic money-grabbing local politicians.

Brockwell Park was created to provide quiet enjoyment, gentle exercise, fresh-air and natural beauty amid the hurly-burley of metropolitan south London. Ask yourself. What's changed? Has London and modern life got any less frenetic? Do people need to exercise and to chill-out far less than they once did? And, surely, being able to do so for free helps those on low incomes far more than any exclusive ticketed event?
Fortunately Brockwell Park has the status of Metropolitan Open Land - which is the highest level of protection that can be afforded to a public park. So there are challenging hurdles to be surmounted before any kind of development can take place that materially changes the park and the quiet enjoyment of it by users.

We will be watching to see whether Lambeth rides rough-shod over this important piece of protective community legislation in its headlong and vainglorious pursuit of cash.