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Local election 2018: Campaigners call on parties to protect borough’s parks

PUBLISHED: 09:58 11 April 2018 | UPDATED: 10:02 11 April 2018

Mile End park. Picture: Arnaud Stephenson

Mile End park. Picture: Arnaud Stephenson

Archant

A green campaign group has urged parties battling for votes in the local elections to protect the borough’s parks.

A public gathering organised by the Jo Cox foundation in Victoria Park. Picture: PAUL BENNETTA public gathering organised by the Jo Cox foundation in Victoria Park. Picture: PAUL BENNETT

Neil Sinden, director of London’s branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), said green spaces across the capital are under threat from developers and pollution.

“We’re extremely concerned about the pressures facing them,” Mr Sinden said. “London is a space for nature not just business, bustle and buildings.”

The CPRE urged candidates of all parties – seeking votes before elections on May 3 – to protect green spaces and make sure they are “beautiful and tranquil”.

But Mr Sinden warned there were “real issues” with the management of Victoria Park in Grove Road, Bethnal Green, “at threat” from events.

The last Love Box festival stage at Victoria Park. Picture: LBTHThe last Love Box festival stage at Victoria Park. Picture: LBTH

Tony Leach of charity Parks for London – which wants councils to be legally bound to protect such spaces – said: “This is a hot topic. Local government can’t afford to use council tax to run services they aren’t legally obliged to.”

He said: “Parks are between the pincers with councils struggling with budget cuts and land needed for building.”

Mayor John Biggs said: “Our parks and open spaces are a precious resource in a borough as crowded as ours.

“I’ve already created new parks in the last three years and have committed if re-elected to create a further 10 pocket parks, to invest £13 million in regenerating existing parks, especially those like Allen Gardens and King Edward Memorial Park where work is really needed, and to create new sports and games pitches where possible.”

Rabina Khan, Shadwell ward,  Group Leader for Peoples Alliance of Tower Hamlets.Rabina Khan, Shadwell ward, Group Leader for Peoples Alliance of Tower Hamlets.

A Labour Party spokesman added former mayor Lutfur Rahman waved through a contract letting part of Victoria Park for commercial events, but the deal was changed under the current administration.

He added developments for brownfield site can be made but are not allowed in parks or open space.

On park events, Liberal Democrat mayoral candidate Elaine Bagshaw said: “It boosts the local economy. It’s good as long as it’s managed properly so neighbours aren’t terrorised till two o’clock in the morning.”

She added parks were “massively important” to an area with a lot of building work.

Aspire's candidate for Tower Hamlets mayor Ohid Ahmed. Picture: Mike BrookeAspire's candidate for Tower Hamlets mayor Ohid Ahmed. Picture: Mike Brooke

“It’s important we have spaces where we can socialise. There’s evidence green spaces improve mental wellbeing,” she said.

Canary Wharf Conservative Andrew Wood said the party wasn’t against using parks for events, but added there would be more support if people could see improvements to the places where they are held afterwards.

“Our bigger worry is schools expanding next to spaces where there are concerns about air quality,” he added.

Green Party mayoral candidate Ciaran Jebb said the borough is fortunate to have “outstanding” green places like Victoria Park, Tower Hamlets Cemetery and Mile End parks.

Cars parked in the middle of Victoria Park. Picture: NEIL SINDENCars parked in the middle of Victoria Park. Picture: NEIL SINDEN

He said: “Green voices on the council and in the mayor’s office are needed to ensure action to protect our existing green spaces, to create new ones and tackle air pollution.”

Jessie Macneil-Brown, Bethnal Green Women’s Equality Party candidate, said: “By allowing Victoria Park to become commercialised, the council has brought more noise and air pollution and undermined its own clean air campaign.

“The health and psychological benefits of using green spaces should not be taken for granted.”

And People’s Alliance of Tower Hamlets mayoral candidate Rabina Khan called for existing parks to be regenerated and for the creation of more “pocket parks”, where neglected spots are turned into green oases.

Aspire Party Cllr Ohid Ahmed said: “The protection of our environment is an investment in our future. Aspire will plant a record number of trees and invest in a set of green and renewable energy schemes along with better care and use of parks.”

Last year, the council unveiled a 10 year plan to protect the borough’s 200 parks and open spaces. The strategy sets out how public open space will bcome first in planning decisions and how new open spaces will be introduced where possible.

The council pledged £13.5million for open spaces over five years. It plans to make more money hosting events in parks.

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