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We need to open up Barnard Park so everyone can use it

06 October, 2017

• I WAS saddened to read in the national news the other day that Islington has been rated the “worst place in the UK to live if you are a woman”.

I am sure that many Tribune readers would beg to disagree. But some would agree with at least one of the reasons given in the National Centre for Social Research analysis: the lack of green space and public parks.

It is a fact that Islington has the lowest levels of open public space of any borough in London. This is a real shame, but it is a problem that can be fixed. That is why I have been surprised by some letters published against the proposals to regenerate Barnard Park.

The park is one of the largest public spaces in Islington, surrounded on all sides by a large and vibrant community. And yet, at the moment, the majority of the park is taken up by an old football pitch on artificial turf, which is used infrequently, with a small amount of grass around the edge of its high fences.

The park is visited by many families of all backgrounds who play together in the playground or adventure playground, but typically do not use the rest of the park as the pitch is not practical for young children, or for any purpose other than sport.

As a young mother with two small children, I know all too well how important it is for families in London to have green outdoor space to play in.

For most of the families nearby, Barnard Park is one of the few places where we can meet our neighbours from all sides of the park – and it should be a great place for the whole neighbourhood to meet and get together.

In spring this year, the council presented detailed plans for a comprehensive regeneration of the park. The plans intend to bring in a seven-a-side pitch, footpaths for running and walking, a flexible grass area, new trees and landscaping, and a café/hub with picnic tables.

The plans mean that football can continue to be played for free by local teams (and many other sports too). But more importantly, this regeneration will open up the park so it can be used by all members of the community for a much wider range of activities throughout the week.

It will also make Barnard Park a pleasant, communal space that will create jobs, and draw people in from across Islington and beyond. At the moment, the football pitch is empty for most of the week.

The plans have been put together over many years (they were first conceived in 2005). There have been numerous public consultations on the topic, and they have been reworked extensively to try to accommodate the community’s different requirements.

They are supported by several residents’ associations, including Barnsbury Estate Local Management Organisation.

So it is totally incorrect to claim (as has been alleged, without basis, in some letters) that there has been little consultation about these plans, that they were not made public, and that they are not supported.

In fact, there were consultations involving residents and associations in 2005 and 2008. There was a formal consultation led by the council in 2014, and another consultation on the revised plan in 2015. Both were widely publicised in the proper way by the council.

In the last consultation, more than 200 responses were received from residents, of which only 22 (11 per cent) were against the regeneration plan. This is all a matter of public record.

As a result, there are many residents who are devastated that the Secretary of State for Local Government has “called in” these plans, and that they will be subjected to another protracted inquiry.

All those who support the plans should make their support known (again) to the council by commenting on the planning website.

We all hope Islington can soon rise up the rankings for quality of life, not just for women and young families, but for the whole community.

R BROWN, N1

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