My colleague said they’re building flats on the park next door to her in Harrow!’ a friend announced the other week. Hold on, I thought, this is supposed to be stopped! The government said they have stopped local councils from doing this…. But it turns out to be easier said than done! I had been suspicious about building on parks for a long time, but had read that the brakes had been put on … Councils are strapped for cash for one reason or another (and we may not agree with what they spend our council tax on either) and so are not able to maintain parks properly. It must seem appealing to sell off the land for housingone less park to maintain plus the new residents will be paying council tax, parking charges and so on… 

I’ve long been worried about two large swathes of green land near where I live for a good while – one is used for rugby and cricket in the summer, the other for picnics and walking. I dare say Brent council have their eye on them. They’ve already nabbed some land further down for a development of houses and a school – craftily getting all the costs and planning permission sorted out before we were even supposed to know about it – relying on most people to be too busy to notice the announcement on the website when the builders are ready to start work….

When I was a child not only did we play freely and safely in the street, but we took ourselves to the local park without our parents – we told them of course, but we ran around and made the most of it. It was always full of boys playing football, people sunbathing, dog walking, relaxing and so on. Our only fear was that of maybe a bigger kid nicking our ball perhaps. But parks were part of our lives and taken for granted. They were everywhere, and all had park keepers. They were also extremely well maintained, with beautiful trees, flower beds, bushes and huge greens in the middle. I’m not saying there aren’t any parks now, but they are diminishing rapidly, by some accounts at the rate of one per day in the UK. And with more and more people and housing developments, surely we need more parks not less? How long before it becomes compulsory for all spare land to be handed over for building? An exaggeration maybe, but it does feel like we are being squeezed into smaller and smaller spaces…

On top of that children’s playgrounds are also being shut down at a rate of knots due to ‘budget constraints’… hmm now I wonder what on earth they could do with that land once it’s shut? At least 600 have shut since 2014 – probably a lot more as councils don’t always reveal their figures straight away. In fact take a look around you, or have a think, and it doesn’t take long to realise that any green or unbuilt-on land is fair game for taking and selling or developing. Once upon a time it didn’t matter how poor you were, you could still go to the park and enjoy it, but soon if you cannot afford a garden that possibility will be gone.

I even worry about beautiful expanses of green like Hampstead Heath or Hyde Park. I find it hard to believe that someone somewhere isn’t plotting how to start building on those as well… The parks and playgrounds are being shut without our permission or knowledge, so its almost like a practice run for moving onto the really big grabs of land.

Councils say they cannot afford to maintain parks, so they are left unkempt, grass uncut, trees and bushes unpruned, rubbish everywhere, fences unfixed, staff numbers reduced and generally in a bad state. This is apparently due to ‘austerity’ – or maybe just not giving priority to the things ordinary hard working people need to have for any quality of life.  Huge sums of national lottery money has been given for the upkeep of parks but still that is not enough… And now parks are becoming places for crime – muggings, knife crimes, drug taking, none of it seems shocking any more unless we look back to how parks were years ago. Not all parks are badly kept of course, and not all have high rates of crime, but they are not as safe as they once were because the streets themselves are not…. and the councils say people are using them less but this is not my experience – where I live the parks are often busy at the weekends. And are very much needed. 

With the obesity epidemic, children obsessed with sitting staring at ‘screens’, heart and lung disease increasing due to pollution, and the mass building going on, surely we need our parks and large green spaces more than ever…

As with many things, if we don’t stand and up and be counted soon, the grab of our open space will continue until the only view we have is of concrete and more concrete, whether we look up, down, sideways or across. No wonder our wildlife is disappearing too… the eviction of much of that began decades ago. 

So what’s next you may ask – building on our national parks too? Well, funnily enough, just the other day a government advisor suggested just that….

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