Our parks and open spaces deserve some dogged support

CROYDON COMMENTARY: Coulsdon residents have been outraged by council suggestions for possible future commercialisation of Happy Valley with “glamping” and caravans. LEWIS WHITE puts forward his point of view

Residents have reacted angrily to council suggestions for future activities in Happy Valley

I’m all for meaningful use of parks for events, as long as they are occasional, are in keeping with the intrinsic qualities of the site, and do not compromise the recreational needs of the majority of users.

Some parks are “green deserts”, and very boring. Veg growing projects can be great, for healthy activity, good food, and giving people sunshine and company of others

Commercial uses should be very carefully considered. For example, dog-walking can be intimidating to other park users, and clearly has health implications even if the dog walkers are diligent about “picking up” the poo and in full control of their charges. Some are not. Only last month, sheep in Happy Valley were attacked and killed by a dog.

My own view is that this activity should be closely controlled and licensed. If a park is being used, the activity is in effect being conducted in a business workplace. The public should not be financing it, for free, and not of unrestricted numbers of dogs.

Likewise, organised outdoor practice of kick-boxing to me is incompatible with the atmosphere of most parks, which should not be places of noise and violence, even if kick-boxing is regarded as a self-defence skill. Boxing? Yes, if indoors in a park building, but not outside please.

Even if commercial activities conducted in an open space seemingly cover their costs, maybe even make a profit, there are other costs, such as security, litter-picking, and risks, such as clearing up after access by fly-tippers and travellers which, in a single day, can wipe out hard-won profits made over a whole year.

When does an activity or use become the appropriation of public land for private use or gain?

When does an occasional activity become unacceptable as a result of becoming more frequent?

Who is to decide these thresholds?

How long it takes for keen volunteers to run out of steam and start hating being a volunteer? Volunteers don’t grow on trees, and if called upon too often, might soon start asking for payment, or give up.

Which brings me to probity and accounting. Essential .

Placing public assets into the hands of groups of private individuals has many risks.

Is any of this really going to save us any money, long-term?

  • Lewis White, pictured, who lives in Coulsdon, worked for many years as a landscape architect for local authorities in London
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