We welcome the attention given to the highly significant green asset within the London Borough of Bromley and applaud the desire to be known as the ‘Green Borough’ but this document falls short of any protection or enhancement of our green environment.
The challenges driving this strategy – population growth, corporate aspirations and supporting planning policy appear to have created a document with an underlying agenda; a strategy that is looking to repurpose open spaces and generate income from them without tackling the real agenda of climate change and creating biodiverse environments that residents can use for their health and wellbeing, which in turn reduces the call on the purse of social and mental health services. Whilst we should be brave enough to recognise when and where some open spaces should be repurposed, this should not override the strategy, particularly in the current national health crisis and the climate change agenda.
There is a bias in the document having been written by a commercial organisation already contracted to LBB. There is a sales pitch feel to it with irrelevant case studies from outside our area. The emphasis given to increasing revenue from open spaces is not the objective of open spaces when the borough target to reduce their carbon footprint is clear.
Repurposing public spaces is a concern – introducing development or disposal contrary to improving biodiversity in publicly owned open space. There is also significant concern around the level of funding, 1% reduction in the proposed maintenance budget preferring an outsourced grant style of income. This could lead to unwarranted commercial development of open spaces, finance overriding the sensitivity of the environment. There is room to create some commercial activity centres within our parks but not housing developments.
The targets in the strategy seem unambitious and unrealistic given the expectation of the increasing users of park users since the pandemic. Equally, there is no monitoring in place to appraise value for money or meeting of targets which should be identified as part of the challenge of this strategy.
10% targets for tree planting and biodiversity space increases are not ambitious given the air quality issues in pockets of the borough. Where is the match to the Bromley LIP on street tree planting, ivy screening and pocket parks? There should be higher targets for tree planting and flood prevention in the development of front garden/driveways.
BEECHE at High Elms needs to be replicated in other local accessible venues, Scadbury Park for one on the eastern boundary of the borough. There is potentially land here that could be repurposed. There is every reason to create an educational visitor centre within the park with an associated café to cover costs long term. Buildings potentially already exist at the Shaw Trust within the park. The grade II listed moted manor is at risk and with appropriate borough input, grants from Heritage England could be attracted, the Tudor associations of the site make it culturally valuable and a rich curriculum asset for our schools. There is room for a solar panel site on the existing farm if tenancy issues can be managed.
Also, in Chislehurst more should be done to promote both Whytes Wood and Walden Recreation Ground, historic and valued sites for nature conservation and education. The whole of the Belmont Open Space needs effective management with the local Friends Group and matched funding could be made available from The Chislehurst Society grants programme.
Our cemeteries provide perfect places for volunteering, heritage preservation, education and wildlife havens, there needs to be a clearer strategy for their careful promotion and use.
Community centres are welcomed, with e charging points for vehicles in car parks, upcycling and recycling centres, community use of disused buildings. Greater time investment in communication with and surveys of local areas with community groups. Any changes in governance for management of parks by friends’ groups and delegated sports organisations should be developed with these groups and more detail within the strategy is required using their valuable experience. There needs to be a commitment to overcome seeming intransigence in places, using ward councillors to tackle entrenched legal and planning issues.
The weight given to biodiversity improvement and protection in the strategy is weak. There is significant room in our borough to consider the wilding of verges and associated cutting policies which could reduce budgets for certain tasks.
We understand the strategy was drafted before the pandemic but the current context should now be taken into consideration before the draft becomes an approved policy. Now is the time to create purpose-built cycle routes through safe places like parks, but routes that do not interfere with pedestrians. Active travel connectivity across the borough should be an infrastructure goal within our open spaces.
Now, more than ever, we need accessible, attractive, safe, biodiverse green open spaces for all generations to bloom, well managed open spaces that contribute to reducing the borough’s carbon footprint and promoting a healthy future for all.