Pull plug on Battersea Park motor races, says Open Spaces Society

The Open Spaces Society is calling for the withdrawal of a planning application to hold ongoing Formula E motor races in the historic Battersea Park, while the Heritage Lottery Fund is questioning whether organisers have breached their contract.

The pagoda at Battersea Park on the banks of the Thames. Image: Pixabay
The pagoda at Battersea Park on the banks of the Thames. Image: Pixabay

Wandsworth Council agreed in February 2015 to allow Formula E racing in the Grade II* listed Victorian park for five years as a way of raising money in the face of budget cuts. A council spokesperson told Horticulture Week that while the overall figure raised by the Formula E event was commercially sensitve, if the races were staged over five years as planned, Battersea Park would benefit from at least £1m of investment.

The first event was held in June, and the council had an opt-out option for future races if it was decided unacceptable damage was caused to the park. 

The plans to restage the races in subsequent years have now sparked hundreds of objections. But Wandsworth Council planners have published their recommendation to approve future events, despite the consultation period not closing until Friday (19 February).

The Open Space Society's general secretary Kate Ashbrook said the society is campaigning against the "commercial exploitation" of parks and open spaces, of which the Formula E races are "an extreme example".

"We call on councillors to refuse permission for this damaging and inappropriate event. It is doubly concerning when a consultation process is so clearly invalid and an application so defective," Ashbrook said.

"Battersea Park is a high-profile open space. Such a use sets a very poor example and risks being a precedent and encouragement for commercial abuse of parks and open spaces up and down the country."

The society has now complained to the chair of the planning committee which is due to consider the application on 24 February.

Before the initial event was held last June, the Heritage Lottery Fund had also expressed concerns about whether its £7.5m investment into the park would be put at risk. But after the event HLF told Horticulture Week it was "confident that principal areas of the parkwhere our funding was focused were unaffected".

However HLF London head Stuart Hobley has since written to the Formula E organisers querying some of the planning documents and raising the possibility that organisers could be in breach of contract


The races have been staunchly opposed by many locals who complained about noise, mess and parts of the park being closed off to the public, with a Save Battersea Park protest group set up to fight the council's plans.

The inaugural event was held on 27 - 28 June, with a Heritage Impact Assessment carried out in July. The impact report after the event contained mainly positive feedback, particularly around the running of the event days and minimising of damage to the park by spectators or vehicles.

But it also highlighted several shortcomings and admitted there was significant disruption to the public. Public access was "increasingly constrained" in the three-week lead-up to the event, which the report called "unacceptable".

It continued: "The overall scale of the construction process, including plant, vehicle movements and impact on public access, together with the physical and visual impact of fencing and barriers, was significantly greater than anticipated and caused significant disruption over the full three week period.

"Although track crossing points and limited signage and marshalling was in place, loss of habitual routes and visual orientation meant that park users were confused about access routes into and around the Park."

Other issues included poor communication with parks management and a lack of consultation around tree-trimming works, a lack of protection for heritage assets, and poor litter cleanup after the event.

Save Battersea Park called on the council to back down in the face of the report, pointing out that in 2014 the politician leading on the project, Cllr Jonathan Cook, said: "We could not support a proposal that would cause harm or damage to the fabric of the park and its important historical and heritage features, cause unnecessary or unreasonable disturbance to residents living nearby or involve excessive disruption to people’s normal enjoyment of the park."

The Open Spaces Society has now complained to the chair of the planning committee which is due to consider the application on 24 February.

It reiterates that the race is "a totally inappropriate use of this park and the extended loss of access to members of the public is equally unacceptable". It also says there are basic flaws in the planning application, as it proposes the use of the park under Planning Use Class D2 which excludes motor sports.

The society has also highlighted the risk of significant damage to the park if it coincides with a period of wet weather. It cites the example of nearby Clapham Common which has suffered "grave degradation from overuse" and vehicles accessing the open space during the set-up and de-rig periods of major events.

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