Charlton Park is all lined up to get its skate park after councillors backed the scheme at a planning meeting on Wednesday evening.
The new skate park is funded by £365,000 from Berkeley Homes, which is building on the site of an old facility at Royal Arsenal Gardens, Woolwich, and £15,000 from Greenwich Council.
Councillors on the borough’s planning board voted by 10-1 to endorse outline proposals for the scheme.
The meeting saw Denise Hyland – the only council leader in London to regularly sit on her borough’s main planning committee – withdraw after objectors pointed out she had voiced support for the scheme at a council meeting last year.
But councillors criticised objectors for stereotyping young people as troublemakers, and voiced the hope that the facility would help residents become fitter and more active.
Objectors had submitted a 50-page dossier of local newspaper reports focusing of allegations of anti-social behaviour at skateboard parks elsewhere in the UK, while one, John Tidy, said: “It’s the wrong design, and it’ll get covered in graffiti.”
One resident, Geoff Cooper, claimed wheelchair users were at risk of falling into the skate park, which will be dug out of ground behind the outdoor gym, meaning a tree will be felled and two table tennis tables will be moved. Another called skateboarding “a minority sport”, adding it would be “unfair that the majority of [park] users won’t want to use it”.
Two local councillors, Charlton ward’s Gary Parker and Kidbrooke with Hornfair David Stanley, backed the objectors, but on the surer ground of the facility’s management.
Parker said there was no management plan for the park, adding that Charlton Lido operator GLL was interested in being involved if the skate park was in nearby Hornfair Park.
Stanley said there was “no evidence of a proper noise assessment”, adding that there were already anti-social behaviour issues at the Canberra Road entrance to Charlton Park. He added that there were already many sporting facilities in Charlton and Kidbrooke and a better skatepark could be placed in the east of Greenwich borough “where there is more social deprivation”.
Former councillor Jim Gillman told the meeting: “If council officers look hard enough, they can find a more suitable place.”
But the skate park’s backers found support from Charlton ward councillor Miranda Williams and fellow cabinet member Jackie Smith, who said Charlton Park was the only site that fulfilled the criteria for a skate park, including accessibility by public transport.
“If there is anti-social behaviour we will deal with it. But there won’t be,” she said. “Skateboarders currently use General Gordon Square [in Woolwich] and there is no graffiti.”
Andrew Donkin, who organised a petition in support of the skate park, said there would be no problems in a skate park that could not be solved. “It’s not like landing a man on the moon,” he added.
Local skateboard fan Kevin First explained how we was still riding a board at the age of 38. “It’s not just for teenagers,” he said, adding that a similar facility in Clissold Park, Stoke Newington was barely visible to the public. Another supporter said skateboarding had given him confidence that had helped him start his own business.
Stuart Hopper, of the Greenwich Skate Park Co-Op, said the park should help boost social integration, and that “oversight” – having plenty of people near it – would help it become a safer facility.
Planning decisions in Greenwich often fall on party lines, but Conservatives Matt Clare and Geoff Brighty also supported the scheme, with Brighty even suggesting he might try skateboarding after hearing evidence from older enthusiasts.
The only dissenter was planning chair Mark James, who objected to the effect on the Charlton Village conservation area.
Councillors backed the scheme with conditions including no construction work on Saturdays. But before that work can go ahead, the council’s agent will have to return to the planning board with more detailed proposals that meet those conditions.
If they are quick, the park could be in place next summer – it’s understood concrete skate parks can’t be built in winter, so the earliest work could start is next spring. But considering the glacial pace of this scheme, perhaps summer 2018 is more likely.
Charlton Champion comment: While Wednesday’s decision looks like bringing the saga to an end, the skate park battle has been dispiriting even by the low standards of Greenwich borough politics.
Few come out of this with any credit, except the council staff lumbered with polishing up the scheme, and the local parents and skateboard fans who have taken the idea and backed it.
A well-maintained facility would Charlton Park’s appeal. But the consultation-free choice of location raised eyebrows considering the council opened a BMX track in Hornfair Park only a few years back – with some suspecting Charlton Park was picked as a salvo in long-running squabbles in the local Labour establishment, with some of the council leadership’s fiercest internal critics living nearby.
Critics also suggest there is no overall strategy for the skatepark – or the park itself – and raise questions about its future funding. Essentially, Woolwich is losing a skate park because Berkeley Homes did not want it anywhere near its luxury homes, and gave the council money to build it elsewhere, albeit within three miles of Woolwich.
A recent Freedom of Information request revealed that there is just a £62,000 annual budget for all playgrounds and skate parks in the borough. There is no evidence of an plan to secure outside funding.
So it looks as if much of the onus for caring for the skate park will fall on those who use it. This may not be a bad thing – skate park fans are a resourceful and passionate bunch – but it helps if the council has a plan for how to incorporate the energy and talents of the park’s users.
But many critics over-stepped the mark with lurid claims that the skate park would increase crime, as they did at Wednesday’s meeting. Council staff rebutted these claims in a recent petition response – pointing out, as Miranda Williams did on Wednesday, there is evidence that they can be good for local communities. It all felt like the failed campaign to stop the Olympics coming to Greenwich Park.
Objectors were right to highlight council leader Denise Hyland’s role on the planning board – an issue which has been highlighted elsewhere and will continue to cause problems for the council. One exchange saw Hyland ask objector Frank Salmon: “Do I know you?”. “Yes, you abused me at a council meeting,” he responded.
But the sudden emergence of a Friends of Charlton Park group in response to the skatepark proposals was as disingenuous and cynical as anything to come out of the town hall. Charlton Park is an amazing but overlooked facility – it deserves better than being squabbled over by two equally cynical sides.
There’s also been a lack of leadership from local councillors – unwilling to publicly stand up the council leadership, or to bother selling the skateparks merits to local people until the day of the meeting itself. If councillors feel unable to speak publicly on a local issue in their own ward, this is not healthy.
We’ve no doubt that the skate park will be a success – just as the outdoor mini-gym has been. There’s certainly the demand from young people for sport in the park, as a look around Charlton Park at weekends would tell you.
But this could have been handled so much better. We hope those who want the skate park get the facility they want and deserve – and the politicians and their friends at Berkeley Homes step aside and allow skateboard users to take the plaudits when the opening day finally comes.