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A Year in Finsbury Park – Chair’s Report 2018

It’s been another eventful and exciting year for the Friends of Finsbury Park. I think it’s a testament to the clout that the Friends have been able to build both in Finsbury Park and beyond, that even as a small group of a volunteers with a small budget, when we launch a campaign – as we did with our License Review earlier this year – the campaign appears in every national newspaper. This year we have been a strong voice in the public debate for the protection of public green spaces, both in London but also metropolitan areas more widely. In the last few months I’ve been in touch with Friends groups from Gunnersbury Park, Ealing Common, Victoria Park, Southwark Park, Clapham Common, but even further afield with parks in Dublin! It’s been quite heartwarming to see how much support the Friends have had from other parks groups, but at the same quite chilling to see how the problems we face in Finsbury Park are not dissimilar to many others across London. I think that as more and more concern is raised by us and other parks groups, the more the issue of the protection of public parks is brought up the political agenda, and the closer we are to ensuring better protections for them.

However, while we are a Friends group with a wider reach than just the community of Finsbury Park, it’s important not to get ahead of ourselves and overlook what is and will always be our first duty: to the community of Finsbury Park, to the local residents and Park users whose interests we must defend. While we have been able to do a lot this year, without the support and generous donations of our members, we would have achieved very little, and so I’d like to thank all members for their help. I hope that, while myself and the Friends have been ambassadors for the protection of parks in general, we have always made sure that it is Finsbury Park and its betterment in particular that we must focus on more than anything else.

And so just as with last year if not to a greater extent, over the course of 2018 I and the Friends have had meetings at Finsbury Park stakeholder groups, Friends of Haringey Parks’ Forum meetings, Finsbury Park Trust meetings, Crouch Hill Community Garden project meetings, meetings with the Council, with journalists and the media, with lawyers, with students interested in Finsbury Park, with academics who want to study the park and the achievements of the Friends, with local police officers, with local residents, with Transport for London, with each of our local MPs, with Finsbury Park user groups, with Parks groups from other parts of London, and of course with our patron, Jeremy Corbyn. We’ve also had two public consultations this year, which many hundreds of members and local people have contributed and given evidence to. I think as a Friends group, we do pretty well to ensure that we are the voice of the local community and that we understand all the different concerns and points of view.

 

Judicial Review

Following the hearing of our Judicial Review at the Court of Appeal in November 2017, the Friends elected to appeal the decision at the Supreme Court. Regrettably, the Supreme Court decided not to hear our case. However, that is not to say that our legal action was in vain. We were able to secure a major concession at the Court of Appeal hearing in November, namely that the council were not able to ‘make a profit’ from the park – they were no longer able to raise money by hiring out Finsbury Park and spend the funds elsewhere outside the area (or not spend it at all) with no accountability to the local community. Now that this is the case, all income generated in Finsbury Park will be spent on the park for much needed improvements.

The council has now agreed with us to produce a separate set of accounts for Finsbury Park from next year, which will allow for closer scrutiny of how the council manages the park and better accountability to the local community. The council raised over £1 million in hiring out the park for events this summer (significantly more than is needed to maintain the park). In effect then, thanks to all the thousands of pounds contributed by members towards our legal fees, we’ve been able to secure that £1 million for the park, when, without our legal campaign, the council would have had no legal obligation to spend a penny of it in the park. This goes to show just how valuable the donations by members were towards our legal costs, and so we’re extremely grateful for members for their support. It also means that there’s much less of an incentive for the Council to make so much money from the park by hiring it out to the extent that it does, which should mean that we should see fewer park closures and less damage to the park by and for festivals going forward.

 

License Review

Earlier this year, the Friends decided to petition Haringey Council to hold a review of the license conditions under which events company Live Nation is able to run festivals such as Wireless in Finsbury Park. The Friends proposed a set of 20 new conditions which would make festivals more manageable, should the council decide to continue to hold events in the park. We instructed solicitor Susan Ring of Harrison Grant Charles Streeten of FTP to act on our behalf for the review and defend the interests of the local community. Thanks to donations from members, we raised over £7,000 towards the cost of legal fees for this representation, which we’re very grateful for. There were 70 representations that expressed opposition to the current license, and none in favour. We also heard from several local people who agreed to give evidence to the review about their experiences of living near the festivals, which was powerful and compelling testimony. The License Committee of the Council agreed to introduce several of our proposed conditions for the license, of which the most significant one was the new noise conditions for festivals. Following complaints from local residents about shaking furniture and rattling windows in their properties, we commissioned sound expert Richard Vivian at Big Sky Acoustics to produce a sound report which recommended the introduction of new bass volume conditions to mitigate these issues, and we’re pleased that the council recognised the seriousness of these conditions and agreed to introduce the bass conditions.

Live Nation have now decided to appeal the decision of the council’s License Committee, citing their disapproval of our new noise conditions contained in the license. We are extremely disappointed that Live Nation do not accept the new noise conditions, given that their representation at the License Review stressed how the company was always eager to listen and act upon the community’s concerns about how events were run. This is the first time that local residents have been able to get together and change conditions in a festival license to make the event more manageable, and yet Live Nation have only been only too eager to undermine this effort at the earliest opportunity. Nonetheless, we will fight to protect the new license conditions. Haringey Council must now defend the decision by the LSC to impose new conditions on the licence. We are still waiting to hear what the Council intend to do and will update you as soon as we have more information.

 

Safety Report

Following the murder which took place in the park in late December 2017, I launched an online consultation on safety in the park, to establish what the concerns were of local residents and park users and how these could be addressed. Over 250 local people took part in the survey, which found that only 1 in 8 respondents agreed that the park was ‘safe’, and the majority thought that the park was either ‘unsafe’ or ‘very unsafe’. The consultation responses were consolidated into a report which was shared with the council. I met with Catherine West MP who has been very supportive in our push to improve safety in the park. As a result, the Friends were able to coordinate a safety action group of local MPs, Councillors, park officers and police officers to address safety concerns. The Police agreed to produce an Environmental Visual Audit of the park, surveying the key areas of safety concern. The council are now working with the police to explore implementing new safety measures for the park, including the introduction of a permanent police presence in the park and an increased park warden presence. I’m grateful to all the hundreds of people who took part in the survey.

 

Tfl Cycle Lane

As part of a longer route from Tottenham to Camden, Transport for London is seeking to introduce a cycle lane alongside Seven Sisters road to run from Finsbury Park to Manor House stations. One of their proposed development options is close off a 5 metre-wide section of the park and reappropriate it for use by TfL to install a cycle lane. 5 metres might not sound a lot, but across the length of the park this amounts to a loss of 4,000 square metres of green space in the park, which is the equivalent of the size of a professional football field or 15 tennis courts. While we support the introduction of cycle routes to make cycling easier for enthusiasts, commuters and young people, we would not support the loss of any green space in the park. We have therefore opposed the loss of any land in the park and have suggested to TfL that their proposed route could run into the central carriageway in the park, which is already used frequently by cyclists. I have spoken to local MPs about this matter and they have agreed to support us on this matter, which is welcome.

 

150th Anniversary Celebrations

Looking ahead to next year, August 2019 will mark the 150th anniversary of the opening of Finsbury Park. This is a momentous occasion for the park – certainly the most important in a generation – and it’s crucial that we as a Friends group are able to put on a celebration to match the grandeur of the occasion. There are lots of exciting developments for the park next year which we are helping to organise:-

Book – One of the Friends’ former chairs, Hugh Hayes, has begun writing a new edition of his book, A Park for Finsbury, which will be published next summer and will include an update on the history of the park since the turn of the century. The fascinating book was well-received when it was first published several years ago, and we very much look forward to the publication of the new book next year.

Play Area Redevelopment – after consultation with the Friends and with park users the Council has decided to invest in replacing some of the – currently quite decrepit – children’s play equipment in the park and to repair and renew the Hope Space play area. Some of the play equipment will be installed by the time of the 2019 celebrations, and others will be completed later in 2020.

We’re also working on a celebration of events for a week in August in the park, which will include:

Finsbury Park Theatre – we are working with the theatre to look at putting on a production in the park in the summer centred around a theme of the history of the park and the local area.

Islington Art Society – The Islington Art Society and its many dozens of members who live in Islington, Haringey and Hackney has agreed to hold an exhibition celebrating the history and importance of Finsbury Park, in the park in the summer. This is a really exciting exhibition and we’re currently negotiating with the council to provide a space to host this exhibition inside the park for a week in August.

Finsbury Park Trust – At the suggestion of the Friends’ patron, Jeremy Corbyn, the Finsbury Park Trust would like to hold their biannual Regeneration Conference inside Finsbury Park in the summer, where they will look at how to keep Finsbury Park the vibrant, diverse and successful community for years to come.

Haringey Council will also be putting on its own celebrations which we will be hearing more about in the coming weeks.

We are also seeking volunteers to help us prepare for and run the celebrations, which are set to take place over the week beginning 5th August. We would encourage members, local residents and park users to get in touch with us as soon as possible if they would like to volunteer for and/or be part of the celebrations.

In any case, I hope you as members of the Friends are satisfied with what we’ve been able to achieve this year, and that we will be able to achieve even more in the coming one.

Simon Hunt

Chair
Friends of Finsbury Park