Council vote to seal fate of Bexley green spaces

Bexley Council has been accused of "municipal vandalism" as it prepares to approve the sale of green spaces across the borough.

Dr Sid Sullivan
Dr Sid Sullivan

The south-east London borough will vote next week on whether to sell the first four of 26 green spaces - 10 public open spaces and 16 areas of highway land.

The plan was first announced in February. Following public consultation, a report will be going to the council's cabinet on 17 November on the potential disposal of the first four sites, including half of the much-loved 3.6ha Old Farm Park in Sidcup.

Parks experts have strongly condemned the move and residents have campaigned and petitioned in protest. Old Farm Park users have even appealed to the London Health Board to consider keeping the park open as a low-cost mental health measure, but the board, chaired by mayor Boris Johnson, declined to consider the idea.

But as the decision date approaches, Bexley Council is emphasising that the spaces represent just 0.31 per cent of the total green space area.

A council spokesperson said: "Bexley has a total of 106 parks and open spaces plus numerous pieces of 'green' highway land across the borough." She added that the 26 sites represent "a very small proportion of the borough's total green space".

"We have 623ha of open space and if these plans were to go ahead we will have 621 - a minimal reduction."

But parks consultant Dr Sid Sullivan said the council's use of statistics to justify selling parks is "deplorable". He pointed out that the smaller open spaces and parks are the "backbone" of any parks network.

"They are the ones that are closest to people's homes and more likely to receive regular and persistent visits - particularly from younger users," said Sullivan.

"If you take the smaller parks out of this interdependent network you will cause an irreparable break in the community's park use habit, which in turn will have profound implications and impacts on their health."

He added: "I challenge Bexley to release a map of the borough with the loss mapped alongside the social economic groups so that the 'owners' of the spaces (the local communities) can make an informed decision and the council can justify with the evidence why those spaces have been targeted."

Bexley Council defends decision but faces criticism from experts

In February Bexley Council presented the sale of open spaces as the only way of keeping the remaining parks in good condition. It said the sale of these parks and open spaces would allow it to maintain its remaining green spaces and retain facilities and biodiverse habitats. Holding onto the land would mean grounds maintenance for sport would have to cease, playgrounds would close and litter and dog waste bins would be removed.

When asked whether the funds raised would contribute to an endowment fund for the remaining parks’ upkeep, a spokesperson said: "The capital receipt will be used to reduce council borrowing levels, which will in turn lead to a revenue saving, resulting from reduced interest and loan repayments."

This is due to "the need for large-scale savings to compensate for the loss of Government grant and to meet the costs resulting from increased demand for statutory services".

But Dr Sid Sullivan (pictured above) said in fact Bexley is likely to be sitting on large cash reserves. He said while public sector finances are certainly squeezed, Bexley is following an ideological position rather than selling for practical reasons.

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