The following notes were made by The Friends:
There was a well attended meeting on 6th November at All Saints Church, Prince of Wales Drive where local residents were told more about the proposal to race Formula E, cars round the carriage drives in Battersea Park on 27th June 2015.
The meeting was chaired by Jonathan Cook, Deputy Leader of the Council, and the principal speakers were Alejandro Agag, Chief Executive of Formula E Holdings, and Paul McCue, Wandsworth Council’s Assistant Director of Environment and Community Services.
Also present were the Borough Solicitor, Martin Walker, a representative from Harbottle & Lewis (specialist sports and media solicitors called in by the Council), Jack Adam (Head of Park Security and Events), Jerry Birtles (Chief Parks Officer), and Oliver McCrudden, Formula E Facility and Track Design Team Manager.
Wandsworth Council has agreed in principle for the race to go ahead, for either one or two days. If two days, the Council expects to receive twice the revenue. There was no indication of how much money might be involved, but assurances were given that a proportion of this – no percentage was given – would be safeguarded for the Park. Currently there is only money in the Council budget for maintaining the Park, and very limited funds for development and improvement.
The organisers are proposing races for 5 years; London is the only city to have a break clause, and the only city to be paid for hosting Formula E. Other cities, for example Berlin, Miami and Monte Carlo, are paying to host a race. The races will all take place in the heart of cities – apparently 25 million people watched the first one in Beijing on television. Formula E’s HQ is in London, the cars are built in the UK by McLaren, batteries are made by Williams, and the logistics team is based at Donnington Park.
As the Park is Grade 2 listed and its restoration between 1998 and 2004 was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), the Fund has required the Council to commission a Heritage Impact Assessment. This is now being considered by the Fund, who could recommend that the race not take place, or demand operating conditions to protect its investment in the Park. The HLF report will not be made public until the Council meeting on 26th November. Following this, deputations may attend a public meeting on 3rd December. The Executive will meet on 8th December, and a final decision will be made on 18th February. In the meantime, FE are preparing a planning pre-application.
Should the race go ahead, construction of barriers, walls, stands etc would start on 15th June, with everything down by 3rd July; work could take place at night, with lorry movements during the day only, and sections of the Park closed during construction. The proposal was for the Park to close for a short time on the morning of June 26th, then for the whole of race day, Saturday 27th. If there was racing for one day, the Park would reopen on the Sunday, then close for 2 days; if there was racing on both days, the Park would be closed for 4 days.
Local residents, including chairs of mansion blocks, representatives from the Battersea Society and the Friends of Battersea Park, and Councillors, all put questions.
There were concerns about having the race at all – why Battersea? – the long build up, the complete closure of the Park to families and dog owners in the height of summer, the damage to the Park, particularly trees, the impact on residents around the Park, the noise, litter and crowds.
Others were keen on the concept of electric cars, leading to cleaner air, cleaner cities, and that Battersea should be in the forefront of this. The Festival of Britain was a bonus for Battersea, and so should this be. The following points were made:
- 30,000 tickets would be on sale; a few thousand of these would be allocated free to residents, school children and other groups.
- There would be cheaper ground tickets, with viewing on large screens, and a suggestion that dogs could accompany their owners.
- The tickets would make it clear that access is by public transport only, with a suggestion that there could be a shuttle service to Battersea by electric vehicles.
- The event would be carbon neutral, largely due to the innovative technology in the cars and their battery charging. Offset measures would be implemented if necessary.
- Formula E was prepared not to have music playing during this race and no concert in the Park afterwards.
- 20 cars would race at a time, with speeds up to 120mph, changing to a second car after 11 laps, when the batteries run low. There would be a pre-qualification race lasting 45 minutes, then the actual race at 4pm, for one hour.
- A short video showed a test drive made by a Formula E car round the Park early one August morning; no complaints were made by local residents.
- Any concessions in the Park obliged to close during the race period would be compensated.
- Council representatives were clear that Formula E would be liable for any damage to the Park and specific reference was made to the recent need to re-build two of the gates which had been hit by lorries.
An initially hostile meeting seemed resigned by the end to the prospect of Formula E, possibly accepting that the Council could not afford to turn down the revenue it would bring to the Borough. An element looked forward to positioning Battersea at the forefront of innovation on sustainability and car safety. However, the meeting objected strongly to the prospect of the Park being completely closed to the public, particularly dog walkers, for such a long period.