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‘Open spaces have never been more in need of friends.’ So declared Kate Ashbrook, our general secretary at a meeting of the London Green Spaces Friends Groups Network on Monday evening, 4 February, at City Hall, London. She was sharing her campaign experience of fighting threats to green spaces with friends groups from open spaces around the capital.
Said Kate: ‘As Friends of open spaces, your role is more vital now than ever before. Our green spaces are under attack on all fronts. Government appears to pay lip-service to the value of green spaces for our health and happiness, while making it easier for developers to grab them.
‘Right now the Growth and Infrastructure Bill is speeding its way through the House of Lords. This delivers two major blows to open spaces.
‘First, it prevents local people from registering long-enjoyed land as a town or village green once it has been earmarked for development. At present, if local people have used land informally for recreation for 20 years, without being stopped or asking permission, they can apply to register it as a green which also protects it from development. In future, once it is identified for development, even if that is done in secret, local people lose their opportunity to secure their rights there.
‘Second, the bill removes the automatic right of parliament to determine the fate of open space which is threatened by compulsory purchase and where there is no exchange land. In future, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government may decide himself whether the open space is sacrificed or saved.
‘Together these measures are a concerted attack on our green spaces. Government talks about the new Local Green Space Designation in the National Planning Policy Framework, but we do not yet know how this will operate, how it will be designated and what influence local people will have over it. We can get little comfort from that.
‘The threats are not always blatant. Local authorities which are short of funds are likely to take money out of open space maintenance as a soft option, so the quality of the spaces gradually declines. Of course this is short-sighted, because open spaces are essential to the wellbeing of the population. Friends groups need to lobby their councillors to show that open spaces matter.
‘All open spaces need their friends. If your space is unprotected and you know that local people have enjoyed it for 20 years, see if you can register it as a green before it is too late. Once the Growth Bill becomes law you have only two months in which to save your spaces,’ Kate concluded.