In the last couple of weeks there have been lots of decisions made about Tooting Common and other issues coming up, so here’s a round up. I’m on the Common most days and I’m also on the Council Committee where most of these are decided and which met last Thursday. So I’ll continue to be active in seeing our Common improved. As always, comments on any of these are very welcome here or by email email@example.com
Rosena is due to have her baby in the coming week so best wishes to her and her family, and I’m looking forward to hearing the good news soon!
Tooting Common Athletics Track and Gym
The Council has decided to seek expressions of interest for the Tooting Common Athletics track to be under private management. This has serious implications for maintaining the current affordability and accessibility for all that makes the track so well used and loved. In the past two years the track has made impressed improvements in its income (partly the ‘Olympic effect’) and has is used by all local schools.
Under current plans this will be part of a big deal for lots of lesiure facilities to be part of a ‘staff mutual’ from next September – not Council run but not a private company either – from next September. This looks like a good option for keeping the Track affordable and accessible as it is now. The Council had looked at the two tracks it currently has (one in Battersea) and considered just keeping one and making the other redundant. It is likely the Tooting one would have been ‘redundant’. This has now been ruled out as the needs of Herne Hill Harriers and the clubs that use the Battersea track are too much for one track.
We have worked with the Furzedown Councillors to make the plans public and facilitate more feedback from local people and users of the track, and to get more information about the plans as they were being drawn up – rather than further down the line when papers go to Committee. We have a petition and called a public meeting organised by the Furzedown councillors. Do sign the petition here to show your concern and hear the latest news and ways you can be involved: http://www.sadiqkhan.org.uk/keep_tooting_bec_athletics_track_running
I am very disappointed that the private management of the track is being considered, and has been done so with so little consultation with local users up to this point, and given the existing plans for the staff mutual. There is too high a risk that prices will go up, access for as many people as possible will be secondary to profit, and a piece of our Common will be less accessible to local people.
The campaign to keep the track running will continue, and we hope to see a lot more openness from the Council about this process and others. It feels like this is the first of many cuts to come in the next couple of years, and whilst these are inevitable there should be done in conversation with the people who use the services and pay for them from our Council tax, not more secret plans and lack of information and consultation about ways in which we can reduce costs but still keep what matters most to us – not just a few people in Town Hall making choices based on finances alone.
This is a great national scheme of local, free volunteer-run, timed 5km runs on Saturday mornings, and would be a great use of the Common for more people and encourage more of us to exercise – there is junior ParkRun too. Over 800 people signed a petition to bring ParkRun to Wandsworth and it would most likely be on Tooting Common, and I’m very supportive of this. Of course there needs to be very good marshalling, other users must have priority over the runners, and no littering. But they operate hundreds of runs in other parks all over the country on this basis very successfully – and its just from 9am – 10.30am on Saturday mornings.
We discussed this for an hour at the Committee as the Council are proposing reducing the fee charged as they are volunteers, and paying this sum from the public health budget given the large demand and clear health benefits. However, they said that ParkRun do not have agreements with any other Council based on fees being paid and are worried that this might start a precedent and new way of working which they can’t sustain on their volunteer-led basis. The Committee voted in favour of ParkRun coming to Wandsworth at first on a six month trial. I hope that the contract can be worded in such a way that the Council supports ParkRun and ParkRun are happy that the funding is sorted out internally in the Council’s budgets and separately to their agreement.
Café – could it become a Community Café?
Is has been agreed that the café will be put out for a new tender for a 15 year lease which the current manger or another company could be successful in winning. The contract will need to include work on an extension to include a new toilet (or toilets?) which will be open to the public. I added a need for baby changing facilities in the café which I was pleased to count as a small victory!
I’ve already spoken with someone who is interested in thinking about bidding for this contract as a local community group – contact me if you would be interested and I can share any information I receive.
Policing of the Common to be reduced
Based on the need to make savings and crime figures as a Council, the policing of all the Parks and Commons will be moved from the Met to the Parks service and the number of staff to do this will be reduced. I do have continuing concerns that being based in Battersea reduces the amount of patrolling we have on Tooting Common, and that crime is falling elsewhere but rising on the Common. So I will be watching these changes with some nervousness. It did come to light that one of the police staff lives on the Common and patrols it as part of their accommodation contract.
Tooting History Project – could you be a local investigator?
I went to the kick-off meeting for this project which has money from the Heritage Lottery Fund and will be applying for a million pounds after this year’s work too. There is so much we don’t know about the very interesting history of the Common and in the next few months the project will bring together volunteers to delve into history and share what they find. This could be about historical myths such as trees planted when Queen Elizabeth visited, events such as what happened during the war, how the Common was saved as Common land, or the history of some of the things on the Common – and lots more. Volunteers are being offered training and can do as little as an hour, and all contributions will be written up by a historian and acknowledged. To find out more or volunteer, please contact the volunteer coordinator Andrew Harby: firstname.lastname@example.org
Litter on the Common
I don’t know about you, but I think the amount of litter on the Common has gone up, especially around the frog ponds but also in lots of the woods and bushes. The group of local people who take concerns to the Council are the Tooting Common Management Advisory Committee, which I’m a member of, and they are raising this with Council as I will continue to do.
The great White Line debate
The white line on the paths to separate cyclists from pedestrians must have seemed like a good idea at the time, and seems to be a very good way to enable both lots of people to use the path through the Common past the playground. However it has caused lots of problems and many arguments and not helped either pedestrians (and wandering dogs and children) or cyclists who feel they should be able to have more a free run on the path that then realistically can. Given that this is Common land, this needs to be settled by the Secretary of State who had a hearing and it was ruled that the white line will be removed, the path desegregated and cycling very much still allowed but the over-riding principle of all users giving way to each other made a priority. The line should go and more signs encouraging considerate cycling and use of the path should be coming to the Common.