2016 has been an important, and in many ways dramatic, year for the Friends of Finsbury Park. Last year Kevin Duffy spoke of a substantial increase in membership, and this has continued, reaching currently more than 400 members. General meetings have been well attended and interesting, with good debate and a strong sense of a community centred on the park and the activities that take place within it.
Undoubtedly the main concern that has brought us so strongly together is our opposition to the growing number of large scale commercial events in the park, sanctioned and licensed by Haringey Council. Events like the Wireless Festival are seen by so many of us as disruptive to our lives and destructive to the fabric of the park itself. We continued in 2016 to attempt negotiation with Haringey Council to put a limit on these events, attending numerous stakeholders meetings and making regular and frequent contact in writing with relevant departments. Sadly, we have to report that our attempts were unsuccessful, and in the end the management committee felt compelled to formalise our objections by mounting a legal challenge; this we did after unanimous endorsement of our decision at the Friends General Meeting on April 7th. Our solicitor set up a vigorous correspondence with the licensing and the environmental sections of the Council, but again to no avail. The case our legal team presented was dependent on a specific act of parliament that put clear limits of time and space on large scale events in public parks. Haringey’s team based its case on a later act, and they were able to persuade the judge to rule against us, thus giving Haringey an unrestricted power to close the Park to the public.
I can’t say that this was easy to accept. We had spent much energy, time and money on our legal battle, and our legal team was confident that we had an excellent case, and I’d like to personally thank all of you who donated money and helped us raise over £11,000 towards our legal costs. The Festival went ahead but this year we set up an independent sound monitor which recorded considerable breaches of the licence agreement noise condition. We are still following up on this and have enough evidence to push for a full licence review.
However, there were positive outcomes for the Friends and for the park: the Wireless Festival attracted smaller audiences than in previous years partly due to our campaign and the fact that many festival goers no longer considered Finsbury Park a suitable venue. More attention was paid to security and to scrutiny of audience members by the Police, by Haringey Council and by the Festival organisers.
Our legal team advised that we had a good case for applying for permission to appeal against the judgement. This we did, and a few weeks ago we heard that we have been granted permission to appeal, on the grounds that the judgement has widespread implications for other parks and public spaces across London. Indeed Lord Justice Lewison has given the reason that the issue is ‘of considerable importance for London local authorities and ought to be considered by the Court of Appeal’ and ‘of importance to London open spaces and parks’. We have made contact throughout the year with Clissold Park in Hackney, Lincoln’s Inn Fields and with Battersea Park whose Friends waged a battle, not dissimilar to ours, against Formula E but settled out of court shortly before judicial review.
We have already been made aware of applications to use the park for large crowd events in 2017. In total 4 new music festivals are planned as well as Wireless Festival at the beginning of July. What we have to remember is that although each festival is only two days long, the area used by an event will be closed off for as long as 12 days in total. The two planned festivals in September for example, will see large park closures for the entire month.
We have more recently brought on board the Open Spaces Society, whose brief is more general, covering wider concerns than ours; they are to be part of our Appeal, with a right to speak at the hearing.
In July the Inquiry into the Use of Public Parks was launched by a House of Commons Select Committee, inviting submissions from interested individuals and organisations. Friends of Finsbury Park produced a cogent and well-informed contribution, considering issues of science and climate, finance and management, health and recreation, flora and fauna. I feel that it is relevant and appropriate that the Friends and other park groups should be involved in discussion of use of public spaces on a London-wide and even national level.
Back to Finsbury Park, and nearer to home. When we can, we send out an e-newsletter to our 400+ members. Please join now on our website if you haven’t already done so in order to receive this. The website is flourishing, and updated regularly with news and invitations to care for and enjoy our park.
I’m happy to say Park groups are flourishing too. I am a regular user of British Military Fitness who now have over 250 members in Finsbury Park. We also have Wheely Tots cycling for toddlers, Tigger London running group, Pedal Power, a cycling club for teenagers and adults with learning disabilities and Alpha Dog Training – who we thank for their £250 donation to the Friends of Finsbury Park, to name a few. This year we have taken part in planting bulbs and new trees, but perhaps our most co-operative and successful community venture has been the monthly Hope Space Clean up. This has happened four times so far, on the first Saturday of each month, attracting families and individuals. Under the watchful eyes of park manager Lew Taylor and his staff, volunteers have done some really valuable work – and enjoyed themselves, as you can see from their pictures on the website. This has been possible due to the incredible efforts of Louise McCullagh, one of our elected trustees, and Juliette Darby, a parent at Stroud Green Primary School, who have organised the project, liaising with the park staff and providing much appreciated refreshments for the workers! So a huge thanks to you both!
In consultation with heads of the local primary schools we are in the process of setting up an orienteering course; the route has been planned and the waypoint markers – very discreet – will be made, and we expect to start working with groups of children in the spring.
2017 looks to be a crucial year for the Friends and for the park. If our appeal is successful we shall have played a significant part in keeping public spaces public, and protecting parks from over-commercialisation. As councils continue to suffer cuts to their funding they will of course want to raise money from their – and our – assets. I am hoping that we will find ways of working with our own council to make the right decisions.
I have had an incredible year as chair of Friends of Finsbury Park and thrown myself into everything I have done. I’ve been ably supported by the management committee and by our legal team who have worked so hard for us on very favourable terms. I’ve been extremely grateful for advice and support from you all and other members of the Friends and have very much valued the co-operation and common sense of Lewis Taylor, the park manager. At this point I am stepping down from chairing Friends of Finsbury Park, to welcome Simon Hunt as our new chair. I know Simon will continue from where I have left off, bringing his energy and enthusiasm for the year ahead.
Watch this space!