Merton Council’s public consultation on a masterplan for Wimbledon Park is fatally flawed. FOWP is calling for an extension of the consultation period, currently set to end on 22 August, which is peak holiday time. And we want the council to hold a public meeting, where concerned residents and park users can have the different options properly presented and explained by the consultants, with the chance to ask questions.
So what is the problem with the consultation in its current form? The options on offer are complicated and badly set out, leaving people confused about what they are being asked to comment on, and in the dark about the true ramifications – such as more traffic, more paid-for public events, more paying activities and less unrestricted green space. Some of the materials on the website are too small to read, even when magnified. Information is missing, incorrect or misleading. There is no business plan to justify or explain why different options are being considered and what increase in income the council hopes to achieve.
Public feedback is sought on three possible masterplan options. The first leaves the stadium in place and the second moves it, but makes few other changes. The third moves the stadium and also involves the removal of bowls, beach volleyball and the dog-free picnic area. It also substitutes mini-soccer courts for some of the tennis courts and introduces both a “high ropes course” in Ashen Grove Wood (the trees by the main playground) and an undefined “events pontoon” in the lake. None of these masterplans makes another proposal clear, however. Buried within the sports part of the consultation is an option to fence a large area of grassland for “field events”, so denying access to other park users.
The consultation provides few real choices, as certain major features appear across all three design options:
- deepening the lake and redistributing the silt to create more shallows for wetland vegetation, with the excess to be mounded elsewhere in the park
- repairing the dam
- opening up views into the golf course
- consolidating facilities for toddlers and older children into the existing space for older children – meaning the loss of the top playground
- “improving” the entrances
- removing existing public toilets
- re-using the white pavilion as a refreshment kiosk and public toilet
- building a new watersports centre
- demolishing the café and relocating it to the bowls pavilion
- moving staff facilities and equipment to some undefined place in the “south end of the park”
- continuing the watersports; the angling; the athletics in the stadium; the tennis courts and the crazy golf
The council has invited public comment on only a few preferences and options – largely those requiring payment or membership of a club. The only free activity listed is “play facilities”, but there is no question on whether users would like to see the “consolidation” of these, as mentioned above. It seems the council doesn’t want to know about preference for the free activities that attract most park visits, such as children’s play, enjoying the lake and its birds, picnicking, walking (with or without a dog), jogging, cycling, scooting and informal sport.
Another question within the consultation asks which of two main concepts for the location of the athletics stadium is preferred: left where it is now, or moved to the north-eastern corner of the park beside the railway embankment. The first of these would allow the re-location of the watersports building to the lakeside by the stadium. The second has the watersports moved to the other end of the dam, near the children’s play area. There is no option given to move the stadium to another Merton open space.
Other vital issues are simply not addressed at all. There is nothing on the value of the park as habitat, notably for ancient woodland plants, bats, swifts, water life, stag beetles, the European eel and wetland birds. The facilities of the park are not compared with others in this part of London. London and local statutory planning policies are not considered. No reference is made to the existing management plan for Horse Close Wood, nor to proposals by the Wimbledon Club to work with the council on the stadium. There’s not yet a business plan. Capital costs are estimated, but there is nothing on maintenance, nor projected income.
Why such a narrow consultation? It might be the only opportunity to help steer the next quarter century of one of the most popular open spaces in the area and we deserve better.
What to do next:
- Go along to the public consultations in the bowls pavilion on Tuesday 26 July, 4.30pm-7.30pm and Sunday 14 August, 11am-3pm
- Look at the consultation material at www.wimbledonparkconsultation.com, give your feedback on the proposals,and let the council know if you are not happy with the way the consultation is being conducted
- Tell your friends and neighbours and ask them to comment on the proposals
- Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up to date with developments