You mentioned on the other lively thread that I had not replied to your post on proxy voting. My best excuse is the awful service provided by Talk Talk.
Hoever both you and Fred seem to be relatively new to the park and its politics so I may as well explain. The point of posting on the forum over the past six years has been my desire to be open and transparent. So this is a bit long, but I hope helps reassure you that I am trying to be constructive.
The early history of the Friends was simple. A group of mums from a local play group plus anyone else who was willing to get involved. Open AGMs, no proxy votes or secret ballots. Much like any other small community group. We were reasonably effective and got the lease and wrote the management plan which enabled curent investment to flow into the park.
I have no idea why there is this sudden interest in the park, particularly from Waterloo interests. Its been going on for about 30 month now and has, as you will have noted from the posts, been pretty ferocious.
The first thing that needs to be noted is that the park lies on the border of SE1 between Waterloo and Kennington. The Friends tried hard to insist that the project group putting together the management plan, the later prioritisation of recommendaitons and the other preparation work for the current investment phase, had a good Balance
between Waterloo and Kennington interests, and that the focus was the needs of the park user and potential user.
Put simply Kennington is more residential, and the areas near the park include large tracts of often poor quality social housing. Waterloo is less residential but has more day time visitors. Any vision for the park has to allow for different users at different time, to avoid conflict and to ensure different needs are met. However unless effort is made to hear weaker voices, the stronger ones will drown them out
One real problem with Waterloo, most recently touched on in a Lang
Rabbie thread about whether Coin Street
had lost their vision, is that Waterloo interests are very intertwined. My understanding is that Lambeth makes decisions on the future of the park by consulting a group which includes SBEG, SAZ, WCDG, Groundwork Southwark, and the Chair of the Friends.
However SBEG deliver SAZ. Groundwork South and SBEG are both members of CRP. The Chair of the Friends is a senior executive with one constituent firms within SBEG (Shell). WCDG has received a large amount of funding from WCRT which is again delivered by SBEG. The Friends have hired WCDG to provide capacity support, whilst Groundwork Southwark are providing paid support to Lambeth on the project. SBEG, WCRT, and WCDG have set areas of interest which end at Lambeth Road
. They rightly have to focus on their own agendas and deliver to their members or their boards.
Of the group who attend these meetings, probably only the Chair fo the Friends lives close to the park.
Once you unravel the alphabet soup there are two problems.
Founders Place, and the associated S106.
The Hospital, whose Foundation Charity Trust or whatever is proposing Founders Place, is probably a member of SBEG or works closely with them. They were certainly represented on WPB, which was delivered by SBEG and which oversees WCRT. They may well be on CRP. Consultation on Founders Place was very focussed on the South Bank Forum
(organised by SBEG and limited to the SBEG area) and WCDG. Other than the Friends who invited them, I am not aware of any presentations to any of the Kennington fora. (Anecdotally it is suggested that the developers were completely gob-smacked by the late opposition to their plans. Perhaps because most people did not understand the likely impact until the first site visit.)
For complex planning reasons any development to the north of the park is likely to have to pay substancial compensation in the form of S106 investment in the park. This is likely to be in the region of £1 million.(Ironically my determined lobbying for good language through the four years of producing Lambeth's Unitary Development Plan may have help achieve this. I note in the latest consultation document the language is stronger still!)
SBEGs interest in green space appears mainly focussed on increasing sports provision. (The Friends started in the first place to oppose SBEG proposals for a private tennis centre to be built on the park.) This is what workers want. Plus most SBEEG members includign Shell are some distance from the park. Their workers will not use it at lunchtime but might use it for after work football.
My view is that this one off sum should be used to make a big capital investment, for example convert either the Park keepers lodge or the toilet block into a proper cafe with safe toilets. All the consultation to date has shown this as a top priority, and a lot of work
has been done on feasibility (a kiosk was not thougth to be feasible, and does not provide the shelter of toilets, but a supported employment cafe would.)
Instead it looks as if the proposal is for football provision and a new entrance on Lambeth Palace
Road, though it's quite hard to find out. Lambeth tell me that they have agreed with the Chair of the Friends that she will be their only point of contact with the local community on plans for the park. (I am just relying on what Lambeth Planners said at a planning meeting.) Lots of questions though. How big? How affordable? Floodlighting?
The Waterloo puzzle continues. WCRT, run by SBEG, apparently insisted that WCDG "deliver" the playground project. I dont know much more than what Lambeth told me when we were close to finalising the plans. Essentially they wewre told that WCDG had "taken over" though Lambeth continued to carry on with the project as before. I understand that WCDG are also keen to deliver S106 funded work. It will certainly help fill the funding gap caused by the end of SRB.
So why the concern about the proxy votes and a meeting held in Waterloo in the same building as WCDG.
Simple really. A change from usual procedures to proxy votes seems to have been decided by part but not all of the committee. In June this was just one of a host of other changes, including a need to be a member for a set period, the AGM limited to members and more. (The latter was interesting given I and others had not been invitede to renew our memberships the previous autumn.)Given that we had already had a period when there was a fairly determined clear out of elected Committee members, it did not do much to inspire trust and the June AGM ended up as a complete and unacceptable shambles.
Proxy voting is not necessarily right or wrong. But the implications need to be discussed. For example with membership at £1 a time, is there a danger that a group with a particular interest could join and dominate the proceedings. Also do all candidates have equal access to potential proxy voters. For example Helen Lees claims that she "saved" the trees in the park. I feel I have done my best to save them but that they are not safe yet. This debate will happen at an AGM, but proxy voters only have access to what the Chair of the group sends out.
Interestingly WCDG do not allow proxy votes and limit their candidates to people who live within their strictly defined area. I think they would be horrified at the idea that people from Walton on Thames, who worked in the area and maintained a keen interest in the area, were able to decide group policy.
Where the meeting is held will affect who will turn up. Particularly with parks. Many frequent park users are elderly or have young children. People do care and attendence has usually been good. But if you want to encourage people who rely on the park, and whose voices are less easily heard, you need to hold the meeting close to Kennington's big estates. And you ensure that it is well advertised within those estates.
So Medic, good you are taking an interest. But I hope you can see why I am concerned. The role of the group should be to help articulate the needs of park users especially the least articulate. It should be a group for people who care about the park, which can include people working in the area. But employee interests are already well represented through SBEG and SAZ. The Friends need to ensure that they stand apart from the inwardness of Waterloo, and act and are seen to act independently in the best interests of members.
I say all of this, but I understand that the number of proxy votes is such that it will make not a blind bit of difference who turns up on the night. The result is already decided.
The best we can hope for is a clear committment by the Friends to support a group of us in ensuring that the design of Founders Place is sympathetic to the setting of the park.
And next time there is a thread about kids hanging round doing nothing, please allow me to let off steam. Here is a wonderful opportunity to improve the facilities available to people who do not have much. But they seem to be at the bottom of the agenda.