Local resident and member of the Battersea Park Action Group (BPAG), James Jackson, a blind author of historical thrillers, who has previously voiced his strong opposition to Formula E racing taking place in Battersea Park this July has now issued a pre-action letter on behalf of BPAG through solicitors demanding that the Council justifies its actions and decision in law.
James, like many others, uses the park on a daily basis and is seeking to halt the Council’s move to close large areas of it this summer for over three weeks as concrete walls and fences are installed to transform the park into a racetrack with 92% of it being closed for four days. He says: “The Council has paid lip service to local people’s and park users’ views, some of whom do not have the option to go elsewhere. To ignore the laws that protect public open spaces shows a total disregard for the benefits these areas bring to all Londoners and the purposes for which they were established in the first place.”
With BPAG support, James has commenced judicial review proceedings on the basis that the Council decision to proceed is unlawful. The submission letter maintains that the Council, in recently granting a planning consent, has ignored statute and, in contravention of local and national planning policy, has failed in its duty to protect the park and to provide unfettered public access to all.
A BPAG spokesman added: “The Council under statute does not have the right to close all or part of a London park for any more than six consecutive days. By closing large areas of the park for up to nineteen days WBC is acting outside the law. The Council has been asked to justify its actions and to date it has provided no reasoned response, merely saying that it is fully satisfied with the lawfulness of its agreement with Formula E and the holding of the event. It has so far chosen not to address any of the key legal issues that apply. The purpose of the submission letter is to make it do so.
“This is not just a fight for public use of Battersea Park but a fight to halt the increasing commercial exploitation of all public parks across Greater London by ensuring that Local Authorities respect these free-to-access open spaces, generating income from them but ensuring that events are appropriate and complementary to the main function of a park.
“Formula E is an extreme example of this type of exploitation and when a council believes it no longer needs to listen to local people and closes large areas of a public park, at a time of year when it is most in demand, it has gone too far”.
BPAG has already set up a legal fighting fund with which it is backing James Jackson’s action and is commencing a crowdfunding initiative to raise further funds. It says: “With the support of all people who value London’s parks we can ensure that current statutory restrictions are upheld and not flouted by those who ignore the benefits they bring to all Londoners and merely see our open spaces as cash cows.
“Many people in London do not have the benefit of their own garden and Grade II* Battersea Park is just not the place for this event as the damage and disruption of last year proved. We hope all who wish to protect our open spaces will donate as much as they can to help our legal challenge. We aim to set down a clear marker that will prevent events such as Formula E appropriating a park on this scale and for this length of time and that will remind councils that they must act within the law.”