Park Closure Used For Cheap Political Capital
For the last twelve months residents of Sidcup, in South East London have been fighting against the sale of Old Farm Park but sadly the local council have approved the “disposal” of this asset. Many who live in the area are of the opinion that this was a done deal right from the get-go. However despite the inevitability of this situation, residents as well as some councillors and even the local Member of Parliament have been robust in their efforts to prevent this sale.
Over recent months many of those involved in campaigning have stated how difficult it has been to get wider media attention. The local newspaper has printed a few factually inaccurate stories but overall local TV, radio and the press have been somewhat indifferent. To them this simply is another case of Nimbyism from the suburban middle classes.
So I was somewhat surprised when I received a group email requesting residents to attend a meeting in the park today. London Mayor Candidate Peter Whittle (UKIP) was to make an appearance and there was to be news coverage from ITV. I believe there was a journalist from The Guardian present as well. Now although I am not a UKIP supporter, I am aware that they have spoken out about building of green field sites, so I decided to go along.
I try not to be too cynical but I had suspicions that this event was going to be more about campaigning for UKIP than addressing the specific issue of Old Farm Park. Sadly my suspicions were correct. Residents were kept waiting for the camera crew to arrive. During which time Mr Whittle and his entourage made no attempt to apologise for the delay or to thank those present for attending. During his talk he briefly referenced UKIPs policy on urban development and made an incidental nod to the matter in hand; namely the sale of this park. Overall he was far more concerned about the press coverage than the key local issue.
As for the actual news article that was shown tonight on ITV London News, it was not about the sale of the park or even the issue of property development in London. It was simply a political opinion piece in which a news reporter spent a day with Mr Whittle while he canvassed in Bexley Borough. As for the residents of Sidcup who attended the meeting this morning to talk about the sale of their park, they found themselves unwittingly featuring as UKIP supporters, due to the way the video was edited.
On mature reflection it was naïve to think that the presence of a politician and the involvement of ITV news would in any way prove beneficial. As for the sale of Old Farm Park that now seems to be a closed issue. However I don’t think the councillors that voted for the sale of Old Farm Park can afford to rest on their laurels. I wouldn't be surprised if many of the local residents who diligently campaigned to save the park will now spend a comparable amount of time and effort ensuring that those responsible are not returned to office in the next local elections.