Days before the official reopening of the refurbished Potters Fields Park, Mayor of London Ken Livingstone has reignited a year-old row over a Tory politician's demand for the park to be concreted over.
In an newspaper interview last June outgoing London Assembly chair Brian Coleman (Conservative London Assembly member for Barnet and Camden) criticised the Mayor's funding for the riverside park and called for the site to be turned into a car park.
Mr Coleman said last year: "When the site is finished it will just be another park for drug dealers and other unsavouries to smash up again. There is a crying need for more car parking in central London, we can try and pretend that life exists on the planet as we'd like it to be or we can experience real life – and Londoners need to park their cars."
Nearly a year later the Mayor of London has hit back. "The evidence of this new park now speaks for itself – this space is better as a park than a car park, despite the demands of the London Assembly's chair," Ken Livingstone said on Thursday.
"Most Londoners want London government to take the environment seriously but Brian Coleman is out of step with this green agenda. Despite this, a majority of Assembly members have backed him to become the vice chair of the Assembly for another year. London needs more green spaces, not less, which is why the London Assembly's vice-chair has got it so wrong by saying that Potters Fields Park should be a multi-storey car park.
"Turning this green space into a car park, as Brian Coleman proposed, would have been an act of vandalism, and it shows how little the London Assembly's current leadership reflects the real needs or wishes of Londoners. London needs to be greener, not concreted over.
"I hope that Brian Coleman will now agree that he was wrong and that the new Potters Fields Park is much better than his plan for a multi-storey car park."
He added: "This is another important milestone in the regeneration of Southwark. The improvements recognise the importance of this central London site but has been driven at every stage by local people. This is one of a number of major projects being undertaken by the council across the borough, transforming it into a place that people can be proud to live and work."
Next week (Thursday 17 to Saturday 19 May) the park will host three days of festivities to celebrate the completion of a year of landscaping works to transform the important riverside open space. The festival will include installations, street theatre, aerial performance and music.
"As well as being a place for Londoners and the capital's visitors to relax in, we also want it to become established as another venue to host events," says Mr Livingstone.
Mention of the name David Blaine still strikes fear into the hearts of local residents who endured noise and antisocial behaviour during the illusionist's 2003 endurance stunt suspended in a perspex box above the park.
More recently the Shad Thames Residents' Association and other locals worked to reach a compromise with the Potters Fields Park Trust over the park's new entertainment and alcohol licence – as documented on the humorous Shag Thames Residents' Association blog.
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