Saving your green space – tactics thats-worked-for-us
Factors that worked for saving Havelock Rec
Context: Officers and directors at Bromley Council had offered to provide somewhere for La Fontaine pre-school. The Renewal Director at Bromley Council offered the (then) Education Funding Agency this park to be used to locate La Fontaine (academy) school, and in response, the Friends of Havelock Rec was formed, so that everyone could enjoy our park into the future. The EFA set it up (and this is normal) so that there would be a conflict over the site as to which future it would have: the school community campaigned to locate the school there, whilst the local residents rose up in objection
Things we did right:
- knocked on all the doors – lots of people, even the long term residents, turned out to be on email and promptly contacted the local councillors
- one of the dog walking community put an (illegal) poster up on a fence that meant all the canine loving community also wrote to the local councillors and joined the Facebook group
- conducted an effective social media campaign – fortunately, people were not just extremely supportive, but amenable to direction (please change your post, we’re not allowed to use that f-word – french – or that d-word – diaspora…) which meant that there was a consistent ‘voice’.
- ran impromptu events that provided local newspapers with photos and events to report (heart in the park – it was Valentines day so we made a heart out of bits of red material everyone brought along, symbolising how our park is the heart of our community)
- everyone watched the local newspapers and commented promptly when reporting was adverse
- got the support and sympathy of our local councillors
- obtained permission and put up temporary notice boards – so the land did not look so ‘under-used’ on google street view.
- attempted to register the land as a village/town green – though this did not work, it signified to the council how much local support there was. We did successfully register the park in the List of Assets of Community Value ,
Things I recommend you do not do (when dealing with the EFA):
- argue that the toxic land-fill will stop the development. It won’t: the EFA has a very large amount of money and can afford to truck the whole lot out…
- expect a ‘urban open space’ or ‘green belt’ planning designation to protect your open space. It won’t: your development will turn out to be “for the greater good” and even if your local councillors support your case and get planning turned down, it will go to the Mayor or Bristol planning inspectorate, and be approved there.
Uncontrollable factors that affected our success:
- It was election year. This election was announced as “one with no save seats”, so even the local MP’s massive majority did not feel secure.
- The school was self-evidently for the french diaspora. They could make no claim to being based in the local community and we could find documents on line that proved they were advertising on a 20 mile radius – proving that many children would commute by car (the area’s narrow roads could evidently not stand a 4th extra-large primary school’s traffic)
- The headmaster fitted certain national stereotypes, including a lack of sense of humour and insisting on being addressed as ‘Dr’. He offended the local councillors and referred to the residents as little people in little houses.
- The school employed emotional blackmail to try and make their case to the local council: it was a very sweet and appealing video of small children saying how lovely it would be to have their school in a park. It didn’t go down very well.
[editor’s note: this piece might actually be better as one of several posts]