On the evening of Tuesday 24th November the Wandsworth Borough Council Community Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee met to discuss, amongst other things, whether or not Formula-E car racing should continue in Battersea Park during 2016 and 2017.
A sizeable, noisy, crowd gathered outside the Town Hall earlier and most were ushered into overflow meeting rooms, where they could watch the proceedings via a live television feed. Deputations were granted to five local groups, Battersea Park Formula E Action Group, Warriner Gardens and Alexandra Avenue Residents, The Battersea Society, Prince of Wales Drive Mansions Blocks and The Friends of Battersea Park, all opposed to the continuation of Formula-E.
A number of the Councillors present noted how they had never seen such a level of opposition to any issue since they had been in office. The common theme from all the deputations was they were not opposed to Formula-E but they were opposed to Formula-E in Battersea Park.
As the deputations proceeded it became obvious (or should we say, obvious to the naive) that party lines were being followed, with the Labour members emphasising residents rights to open spaces and Conservatives members persisting in lines of questioning that diverted attention away from the main points.
Former Council Officer Paul McCue informed the committee that it was not possible to even estimate the number of people excluded from using the Park by the Formula-E event as “it’s not possible to count how many people are in the cars entering the Park”.
A persistent line of questioning by Cllr Rory O’Broin, probing why thousands of event notices went undelivered, seemed to miss the point that he and the fellow councillors should have sorted this out a long time ago.
Cllr Ian Harts attempts at some mental mathematics (with the aid of a pencil) “only 0.04% of the electorate are against the event” left some feeling that part of the Formula-E money should be spent on Kumon Maths primers and a few Bluff Your Way in Politics books.
In an attempt to get the Carlsberg Probably The Best Quote Of The Night award, Cllr Rosemary Torrington stated “parks are a luxury”, although her red-faced mumblings that followed could indicate second thoughts.
In the end (and mirroring Sepp Blatters assertion that the 2018/2022 World Cup venues were decided before voting took place) Chairman Kim Caddy summed up by saying the money that WBC gets from the Formula-E event outweighs residents disruption and exclusion from the Park. The committee voted 7 to 4 along party lines to recommend the events continues. This recommendation will be “discussed” at a meeting of the Council on 9th December.