Discussion Synthesis 2014: Pushing Green Space in Local Elections

London local elections are to be held May 22 2014 and the LFGN are encouraging all local groups to call publicly for adequate resources be made for London’s green spaces. Raising our voices over this issue is surely a priority. Parks services are supposedly ‘non-statutory’ but they clearly provide statutory services eg for schools, health, flood control, biodiversity, social services etc. Parks need to be managed to ‘Green Flag’ standards in order to prevent further decline and anti-social issues increasing with cuts. Joint LFGN / London Parks & Green Spaces Forum Open Letter/Statement to be circulated for groups to adopt or adapt – local groups could generate local publicity, including organising local borough / constituency hustings meetings if they wished. GLA don’t directly manage green spaces, so hard to focus on London as a whole. It was reaffirmed that the LFGN would hold a summer picnic in the gardens by the Houses of Parliament at the end of Love Parks Week, set for Sunday 3rd August 2014. It was suggested that one be held during the election period, but others said that as MPs weren’t facing elections this might not be the best tactic.

There followed a discussion, with comments including: Find out who your ward councilors are, contact those who are supportive. Hustings meetings could be an important tactic. Local issues are the most powerful to raise. Can point to positive examples of spaces in the borough successfully improved with adequate resources and community empowerment, and call for these examples to be emulated and replicated. Concerns about over-development and threats to green spaces – new green spaces should be created to address deficiencies. Parties have their own agendas and power struggles with each other. Councillors and MPs don’t speak from the same hymn sheet. Could approach local political parties to seek effective commitments re adequate funding and management for parks and green spaces, eg ‘What is your party doing to reverse the damage caused by the under-funding of public services, particularly parks and green spaces?’ Some groups/Forums meet up with Councilors on a regular basis to make sure they understand the issues and what’s needed.

Adequate resources / income needed, but beware creeping commercialism eg commercial events in parks / and unpalatable solutions to bridge the deficit gap. The Government is undermining all public services with the cuts. Effective levels of taxation would be a clear solution to the problem of under-funding. Any local urban development sites should be contributing to ‘Community Infrastructure Levies’ and ‘Section 106’ payments for improvements to local green spaces.

It’s up to groups/Forums in each borough to speak out and do what they think is best. The National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces was set up 3 years ago by Friends Forums to try to raise our views and demands nationally.

Supportive London-wide organisations could be approached to add their support to the joint Open Letter/Statement. We need a London and national publicity campaign to raise these issues, stressing a need for additional government funding – there was an urgent need for the new Parks Alliance (national body to campaign for green spaces) to take up these issues effectively.

The role of the European Union and its ‘MEPs’ was unclear re Government policies and responsibilities around green spaces.

There then followed an extensive discussion, including about what Friends Groups can do, especially around the time of London’s local elections on 22 May 2014. Ideas put forward included:

·                Previously LGSFGN and the LP&GSF circulated a joint email to all friends groups to summarise the headline issues that could be raised when lobbying candidates or contacting the press etc. The information was also sent to council officers, to ensure they remain in the loop. This could be done again.

·                Hold local hustings, to provide candidates with a platform to engage with the electorate, and include questions on green spaces. Ask candidates to sign a pledge to support green spaces. Stand as a local councillors?

·                Continue to develop relationships with councillors and officers.

·                Get the public on our side by getting everyone involved in green spaces, through community gardening etc.

·                Fight, collectively, for better planning policies borough by borough but also at London Plan level. We should also be working to ensure that funding for green spaces is statutory.

·                Employ more ‘sticks’, such as direct action to defend threatened spaces.

·                Pool our efforts, using the networks we have to sign each other’s petitions and asking for bodies for direct action etc. [Minute-taker’s note: we should consider the idea of setting up a LFGN yahoo group so we can all communicate with each other.]

·                Sharing our expertise and experience of campaigning and legal battles fought and won, especially developing skills surrounding judicial review.

·                How do we get people in the GLA and the Mayor to listen? We should invite them to one of our meetings. They will surely say that green spaces are the responsibility of boroughs, but the London Plan does have an impact on how they are managed and we should be asking for their support.

·                We have potential clout and we need to better consider how we can use this. One thing we need to do to be able to wield this potential clout is to better organise. We need LFGN officers who will lead initiatives at a strategic level, and this should be discussed at the next meeting.

·                There was overwhelming support for a picnic/lobby at Parliament and it was agreed that we would discuss this at the next meeting.

·                Work to get protected designations for our green spaces, for example Village Green Status or Fields in Trust status. Information about how to set about doing this can be found in the London Parks and Green Spaces Forum toolkit.

·                Link up with other groups which have similar aims, such as Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth, on specific issues. Dave to find out if any suitable groups are part of the Parks Alliance or if the Parks Alliance could spear head this initiative.

·                Will the Parks Alliance get a national petition going? If not, then we should raise a London-wide petition. We could use an e-petition site that allows us to communicate with signees such as www.change.org.

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