Paul Chapman reports on the latest meeting of the Charlton Park skatepark stakeholders group:
I went along to a recent skate park stakeholders meeting at Woolwich Town Hall on Friday and thought I’d report back.
Although ostensibly the meeting was to report on the findings of the feasibility study and get feedback, there was also a large amount of anger directed at both the idea of a Charlton Park skate park in general, and specifically at the manner in which the consultation had taken place.
First, the feasibility study.
The initial consultation had given residents the choice of three locations, all within Charlton Park. Amy London, project manager for the Skate Park, went through the various reasons why Locations C and B had been rejected and Location A agreed upon.
The short version is that Location C (in the corner by the cemetery and the hospital) was too out-of-the-way and Location B was deemed too close to homes over the road and the horses at the Riding for the Disabled area. Location A was the preferred option, both by the public and the planners.
Originally tucked into the corner, the location has since been shifted south slightly to form an L-shape around the outdoor gym. That move was to take the park further from homes (the original location was deemed too close) but brings the park into the sightline from Charlton House. English Heritage, and others, had been consulted over the sightline and their feedback was that so long as the skate park was mostly sunken, and was surrounded properly by soft landscaping (that’s trees and bushes to you and me), then the various heritage bodies were satisfied.
At the end of the meeting a quick trip round the table suggested that all present agreed that of the options presented, the only real possibility had been chosen. Nobody doubted the ability and commitment of Amy and her team – including project architect Rob Montague – to deliver.
Sadly, most agreement ended there.
A current running throughout the meeting was anger that (a) Charlton Park was getting a skate park, full stop; and (b) that the consultation had been a fait accompli and people were only asked where in the park they wanted it, not if they wanted it. (The Charlton Champion reported on the limited options available to respondents when the consultation was launched back in November 2014.)
A skate park already exists at Royal Arsenal Gardens in Woolwich. The land has been sold to Berkeley Homes and the council has received Section 106 money with which to replace the facility. Conditions on the money state that the replacement facility must be within 2 miles of the existing facility and the council, at a meeting last year, deemed Charlton Park the only suitable venue. So a skate park we shall have.
To put my own cards on the tablem I would be happy to see a skate park in the suggested location. I have two young children and I think they would love it (figures quoted at the meeting suggest around 80% of users of skate parks are small kids on scooters).
I also think Charlton Park has plenty of space and losing a relatively small amount of grass (1,000 square metres) is acceptable if the facility is of a high standard (nobody wants a bad skate park). It’s also a view shared by many parents I know.
But others at the meeting disagreed, often vehemently, and argued in particular that a skate park would generate a large amount of noise and would ‘destroy’ the tranquility of the park and specifically the oasis of calm that is the Old Cottage Coffee Shop.
I contacted the site via social media asking who exactly these Friends were but received no reply. The coffee shop also has a written petition inside inviting people to oppose the skate park.
The anger felt by some at the meeting at the skate parks proximity to the Coffee Shop was compounded by the fact that members of the public were not given an option to vote ‘None of the Above’ in the initial consultation.
As one angry coffee-drinker put it: “It is as if someone has moved into your house, but given you a choice of wallpaper that they will put up.”
While conceding that consultation had been poor, members of the local skating community at the meeting were quick to point out that Charlton Park was a facility for everybody and at the moment skaters were poorly served in the borough; Royal Arsenal Gardens is the only skate park at present, and that is destined to become flats. To add insult to injury there was talk of a new byelaw (or possibly the use of existing ones, details were sketchy) to stop skateboarders in General Gordon Square and other public spaces.
It’s hard to escape the view that skaters are seen as a blot on the landscape and are being shoved out of view of the shiny new Woolwich.
Another point made by a local skater was that the BMX track at Hornfair Park had attracted similar concern over antisocial behaviour but those fears had not been realised. There was no reason to suggest a skate park would be any different.
And so the meeting wound to a close with a general consensus that the decisions taken so far by Amy and the team were the correct ones.
However, there remained a strong sense that the park was being imposed on residents by a council in a hurry to ‘fix’ a problem they had bought on themselves through their sale of land to Berkeley Homes. There was concern raised that the three local Charlton ward councillors appeared to be doing little to facilitate local concerns.
There will be further consultation on the design of the skate park, with work due to start in February 2016 and the skate park opening later that year.
The “stakeholders forum” is ongoing and a trip is planned to see both a good and a bad skate park in London so people can see for themselves what works and what doesn’t.
Amy would welcome more local people getting involved in the process – to do so please email firstname.lastname@example.org.