Thursday, June 17, 2010

Telegraph Hill Assembly - the Great Skate Debate goes on

A packed hall at Haberdasher's Askes school for Lewisham Council's Telegraph Hill Local Assembly tonight, perhaps up to 200 people present. The Skate Park Action Group (SPAG), Save the Upper Park Campaign and even the Telegraph Hill Dog Strollers facebook group had all mobilised around the question of whether to site a skateboarding facility in the upper Telegraph Hill park (see previous post on this).

The start of the meeting was nominally a discussion of local priorities, but the feedback from the tables was dominated by early skirmishes between pro and anti-skate park campaigners. This included a truly shocking statement from one person to the effect that she would like to see one park for kids and one for adults. The loud cheer this got from some of the crowd showed that behind some of the arguments about the park lurk some nasty ideas about young people being seen and not heard, or preferably not seen at all. The upper park has, fortunately, never just been for adults and young people have as much right to hang out, play and indeed skateboard there as anybody else, whether or not the skatepark goes ahead there.

The main spokesperson for the park campaign was much more reasonable, rejecting the anti-child argument and suggesting that he was not opposed to a skate park but only its proposed location. Indeed he promised his support for a facility in the lower park.

The SPAG presentation was given by a group of young skaters who made a strong case for more facilities for young people in the area and for the joys of skating. They too were clear that they would be happy with it being in the lower park, where there are already facilities for younger children.

It seems the lower park had previously been ruled out because somebody had suggested it wouldn't be possible - but since SPAG, the Save the Upper Park Campaign, councilllors and council officers (including Martin Hyde - Green Space Regeneration Manager) all seemed to agree that it was possible, this can hopefully move ahead quickly. There was even a suggestion that the skatepark could be placed where the basketball/football cage is now, and the basketball/football relocated to the flat area next to the playroom where people sometimes play football now, but which is usually too muddy for much of the year. So possible win win all round, even if doesn't please everybody.

I walked through the upper park afterwards, where bats were flying around in the twilight oblivious to the heated debates down the hill. Hopefully all this controversy will at least make people appreciate what a great place it is.

There's a meeting of the Friends of Telegraph Hill Park on Monday night, 21 June, at 8 pm in the Telegraph Hill Centre, where no doubt the Great Skate Debate will continue.

(OK if you don't live in New Cross/Brockley, this debate about the lower and upper park must seem very strange. Basically Telegraph Hill Park is on two sites at the top of a hill, split by a road. The lower park has a children's playground and closes at sunset; the smaller upper park is never closed and is known to many as the 'dog park' as dogs are banned from the lower park, and many people walk their dogs there as well as picnicing, drinking and watching the sunsets over London).


TMB said...

Not only watching sunsets, up there you can see the stars... One August night at 2am a couple of years ago I was meteor watching and overhearing a chap on the phone to his girlfriend in rural Cornwall, and he had the better view!

I didn't think the lady was serious about no children in the Upper Park, after all she has two herself and she had a smile on her face as she said it. I took her to mean keep the present situation where dedicated play equipement etc. is in the Lower Park and the Upper Park more for quiet contemplation.

Children are welcome there - loads of them involved in family picnics on summer afternoons and, although it is wrongly labelled "Hilly Fields", the May image of the LBL calendar is a lovely picture of a child aged about three or four pushing a toy push-chair up the slope where you sit to watch the sunset.

Anonymous said...

I think you have to be really careful how you describe people's comments. The lady in question, a mother herself, pointed out that whilst children are great it is also nice to have quieter spaces. That is what received applause, not a suggestion that children be barred from the park. There is a difference between welcoming children in the park and designing large areas of it solely around their needs at the detriment to the existing character of the park that is appreciated by so many residents. A really insidious tone to your reporting of what was generally a positive meeting.

PeterB said...

I was trully shocked by the lady who said that children should be banned from the upper park and by the loud cheer that her offensive remarks received. You only have to replace the word "children" by "non whites" or "disabled" or "gay" to appreciate the obsenity. Calling it a joke is no excuse. If as TMB says she has children of her own this just makes it more disturbing.

I fail to see how victorian attitudes of children being neither seen nor heard and not in my park have any place in a modern, open and caring society.

Sadly some people seem to think that children and particularly teenagers should go away and hide, not bother them and only return when they are adult and fit to be received in civilized society.

Drakefella said...

Peter B I don't know which meeting you were at but I was also at the meeting and she categorically did not say children should be banned from the park.

The previous anon's comment sums it up nicely.

TMB said...

She didn't mean it that way - the Anonymous is quite right about what got the cheer being keeping the option for quieter spaces as well.

No-one is against children. Nearly everyone (except a few grouches who maintain that it is good enough that there are facilities a bus-ride away) would like a skatepark somewhere in the Ward. The problem is finding where to put it when Lewisham has a smaller proportion of green space than other boroughs and Telegraph Hill less than other Wards.

Fox said...

I don't think she was seriously proposing banning children from the park, but she did use the phrase 'one park for children...', which was not unreasonably taken by some to mean that she thought the top park wasn't meant for kids (the fact that she has children herself is neither here nor there). If it was a joke it was ill-judged and needlessly provocative, and could have resulted in the meeting degenerating into a slanging match. Fortunately both sets of campaigners were more measured and pragmatic.

Anonymous said...

A good report of the meeting but I didn't take the comments made by the woman at yesterdays meeting to be a call for age segregation in quite the way you did.

I thought she was highlighting the fact that the lower park already has a large number of facilities for children and young people and so it would seem sensible for the skate park to go there as well. However, as that was my view when I sat down in the hall - perhaps I heard what I wanted to hear.

Overall it seemed to be a good meeting. Amazingly it seems that common-sense and consensus may have won the day.

Transpontine said...

At the risk of repeating what I have said in the comments thread at Brockley Central, I would be happy to put a correction if someone can tell me the exact words that were said if they think I have misquoted the woman who made the contentious remark (I do know her name but don't want to personalise this). Nobody has disputed so far that the phrase 'one park for children, one for adults' was used, though the precise wording may vary.

How people interpreted it is another matter. I don't for a moment think that a ban on children using the upper park was being proposed, but I do think that there has been an undercurrent in some contributions to this debate - both at the meeting and on blog threads - which I interpret as unduly negative about the presence of young people in public places. The debate should be about whether and where to put a ramp, not about the desirability or otherwise of groups of young people being there.

I am surprized that people are rushing to defend the remark, I think it risked seriously undermining the park campaign.

Anyway let's not focus on her, as my report makes clear most people quickly got over the fairly bad tempered start and moved forward positively.

I do think that most people who opposed the upper park plan did so in good faith and for valid reasons. I am not particulary partisan, personally I have always been ambivalent about the skatepark being there, but at the end of the day would support it going there with some misgivings if it was the only option. I have always thought that the lower park would be better, as I believe did quite a few of the people involved in SPAG, though they had been led to believe this was a non-starter. If one thing came out of the meeting, it was that this was not the case. I wouldn't rule out some people launching a 'Save the bit of tarmac/mud in the lower park' campaign, but I think they would be in small minority.

james73 said...

At no point did the lady propose banning children from the upper park. This kind of exagerrated 'reporting' of the meeting does help in anyway. In fact I find it offensive that you should try to create a divisive issue from something that was clearly meant to express the point that one park could be kept as a more peaceful destination. And, for the record she said she had three children.

The outcome of the meeting was very positive with common sense prevailing. The upper park issue need never have arisen if SPAG had not been wrongly told that the lower park was out of the question. Why was this? And who thinks they have the right to make a decision like that without consultation? Thank goodness for the strength of the local community to show those who think they 'own the manor' that the parks should be used how the majority see fit.
It is time now to push forward with the skatepark proposal for the lower park, and create a new football/basketball pitch as well as the skatepark facility.

Transpontine said...

Sorry if you find it offensive James, but a significant proportion of the people there were deeply offended by that remark. I note that neither you nor any other commenter have denied that the words were said, whatever interpretation people may want to make of them. Given comments made elsewhere in recent weeks about hoodies, anti-social behaviour etc. it is understandable that some people (including me) interpreted the remark as an expression of antipathy to young people hanging out in the park.

It would be dishonest to portray the meeting as a community love-in - it ended up in a broad (but not universal) consensus, but started up with a fairly tense and divided crowd most of whom had come with their minds made up one way or the other. After some of the early remarks it could easily have degenerated into a slanging match. That it didn't is a testament to the campaigners. I don't know the name of the speaker from the park campaign, but he did a good job of defusing the situation by immediately making it clear that he wanted no part in some of the wilder arguments about children and that he was only concerned about where best to locate the skatepark. Likewise the skaters were clear that they were flexible about location.

So hopefully now things can move forward, and maybe sometimes you have to have a bit of a row to clear the air.

TMB said...

Mark Gillis spoke for the Upper Park people and given that they only got together in touch with each other a couple of weeks before the meeting he and they did a grand job.

The Lower Park was not considered at the outset because it is the one with a larger amount of Heritage Lottery baggage and it was not known what view those funders (£1.25m less than ten years ago on the basis of restoring and maintaining as much as possible of the original Sexby layout) would take. As it is they seem to be prepared to pass the decision making to the local authority and local community - provided there is extensive (and they probably mean extensive) consultation.

Other issues in the Lower Park are space (which of the existing features and facilities will be moved, removed or modified) and the fact that it closes at dusk when - in Winter particularly - much of the skateboarding on the streets is after dark.

Still there is progress. The Upper Park is now presumably accepted as not being a possibility and everyone can concentrate on finding an alternative site that works. We will see how things move forward at this evening's meeting.