Clearly, this annual report comes with some cause for celebration. The Council have decided that there is no chance of the Government ever funding the F5 road scheme, so they have scaled down their plans and are hoping to obtain £10.8M to “dual” Priory Crescent as far as Toomeys (formerly Lookers). However, that, as Parklife have pointed out, is the classic attempt to build the road in stages and hopefully no-one will be fooled by it. We need to demonstrate to Central Government that F5 Phase 1 will be just as useless and unacceptable as the entire scheme, and will sacrifice an attractive tree-lined road for no transport benefit whatever.
Quite apart from the welcome announcement in June, the PPPS Committee approached James Duddridge, who, in his misleading speech to Parliament in October 2006, referred the the “democratic right of local people to dual that road”. We were not slow in pointing out to him the serious error in his logic, and this led to what seemed at the time (February) to be a very useful meeting in which Michael Downer, Denis Walker and myself spent at least an hour and a half in his company at one of his Friday morning surgeries. I felt that it was the first time that we had had any sort of meaningful discussion with any politician about the road scheme, and we went away pleased with our morning’s work and with a number of promises of follow-up and a strong hint at future meetings. Alas! Our next piece of correspondence was in an entirely hostile tone, stating that he would not take up our case with the Secretary of State because there was an “implied criticism” of him in our letter. Frankly, it’s hard to avoid that when we are commenting specifically on the truthfulness or otherwise of his statement to the House.
We also ran a post card scheme, delivering more than 300 cards to Mr. Duddridge, protesting against his Commons statement. So far as we are aware, he has not replied to any of the cards.
Alongside Parklife, we had a superb evening in January when the Council received an award, the Tarmacadam “Archaeology in Concrete” Trophy. The ceremony was held in the Priory and we had a great time, convening in the Golden Lion and then marching down to the Park. The Councillors were clearly completely unaware that anything was afoot, and a couple of dozen of us had no problem in gatecrashing the event, holding up the ceremony and the People’s Mayor, Parklife member John Smith, stating that F5 was being abandoned forthwith and apologising on behalf the Council for their crass waste of money. After a glass or two of Council Taxpayers’ wine and the odd sandwich, we retreated and allowed the ceremony to go ahead. It was very pleasing to be able to hear the speech from the Museum of London representative state that it would be far better if the site of the Burial Chamber were not to be buried under concrete.
In addition, there was a significant protest outside the Civic Centre on the occasion of the February Council Meeting. About 200 turned up and at one stage the Council meeting was suspended, in all honesty because the Mayor wanted to suspend the meeting, not because any of the protesters were particularly noisy. There were speeches outside and lots of cameras, operated both police and media. There was a further demo on the night of the Mayor’s Ball at the Cliffs Pavilion.
Within the Park, there have been a number of significant changes. Trees continue to be felled, in one case a large double-trunked horse chestnut was clearly diseased, having lost all its leaves by late July. Some of the older ash trees have also gone, and the Council continues to use “Health & Safety” as a pretext. However, some new trees have been planted including some field maples to the east of the lakes.
One piece of good news is that the water voles have reappeared this summer, six years since I last observed them. This is probably largely as a result of the Council doing something about the huge number of rats in the park. Squirrel numbers also seem to have gone down, which is something that I welcome. However, I have seen no sign whatever of the spotted flycatchers this year. Previously, they were frequently to be seen flitting over the lawn by the walled garden, but the removal by Council workmen of much of the evergreen cover alongside that wall has almost certainly disturbed their nesting site and this summer they seem to have gone elsewhere. We have seen kingfishers on two or three occasions, but we don’t think they have nested.
For the next few months, we need to apply ourselves to the task of letting Central Government know exactly how unpopular this road scheme remains. Events over the past 6 years have justified our arguments, and this is not the time to let up.