At last the Cabinet meeting moved on to the sale of five open
spaces, part of the March budget decision but yet to go forward to the formal public consultation stage.
She who must be obeyed said that the budget decisions had been the subject of widespread consultation without revealing anything of the results. You may safely guess why.
It fell to council official Toni Ainge to set the scene for the well planned fait accompli.
There are 27 sites with potential for redevelopment and for funding the council’s capital programme. They had been identified by various council officers with, as the audience murmured, no input from the public. The leader, visibly agitated, asked the public to be quiet and threatened their removal from the chamber. Teresa O’Neill OBE (Or Be Ejected). Widespread mocking "oooohs".
Ms. Ainge continued. The full technical assessments by all the council’s many departments was now complete for five sites. Old Farm Park, Old Manor Way playground, West Street park and Wilde Road East and West.
She said there were issues with Old Farm Park. One was the area was “deficient in semi-natural open space” and the other lack of “play provision”.
Old Manor Way playground we already know about, it has several large sewers running through it and is “a critical drainage area”. Additionally it is riddled with dene holes and mine shafts and therefore totally unsuitable for easy redevelopment. Someone didn’t do their homework when putting it on the sales list but it has allowed councillor Peter Craske to give it a reprieve and claim the credit. Maybe it was another ’aunt sally’ like Craske’s proposed abolition of lollypop ladies five years ago?
Nobody seems to much care about the other three sites although West Street has adverse parking implications.
Councillor Craske wished to comment. His contribution was a reminder that tonight “the decision is not to formally dispose of any of the sites listed but to start a consultation on that. It would be wrong for us to express a view one way or the other”.
He accepted that disposal is unpopular “but every councillor has to take a wider view of the borough. If you remove an item something else has to go in its place, which may be worse”.
Apart from repeating the gradually exaggerated figure for the alleged savings on the new offices, £1 million, 1·5 million and now £2 million, much of what councillor Craske said was unexceptional.
Councillor Don Massey wanted to get in on the act too but all he did was trample over Ms. Ainge’s territory again by quoting page 173 of the Agenda (see below) and reiterated all the old stuff about dene holes and mine shafts.
What was the point of that? Councillor Craske made the favourable decision on Old Manor Way several meetings ago. It’s over and done with. It’s coming to something when a cabinet member manages to make Peter Craske sound like an intellectual. £23,000 a year could be saved there.
Massey saw no reason why Old Farm Parks should not proceed to the next stage, and looking unashamedly at the leader, gave his opinion on obesity levels in the borough. The way to improve things was not parks but “organised activity and one to one mentoring. An open space near where you live does nothing for obesity”. To counter audience dissent he said, “what works is what happens in Thamesmead”.
He then formally threw his support behind the sale proposals to progress to the next stage.
“What are you going to sell off when these places have gone?” came a voice from the audience to the sound of applause, but answer came there none. The question is unanswerable.
And then the council heavyweight threw the debate open to the other councillors present, the bit we had all been waiting for.