Written by Anna Thompson, CNN
Queens Park is a leafy reservoir in southwest London, laid out over 127 acres, planted with trees and flocks of seagulls. It is fiercely protected by government and now campaigners are warning that its days are numbered and that it will be transformed to make way for a housing and shopping scheme.
Queen’s Park is the largest park in the London Borough of Merton, occupying 25.86 acres, and its land has long been at the center of political decision-making. It is reserved for community use as a rural green belt and protected from development by a local park district, as revealed in a new report by Southwark Council’s green policies team.
But Malcolm Hayter, a spokesperson for Queen’s Park Neighbors group, thinks that the park is in deep trouble. “Queen’s Park cannot be saved from its own past and the current council seem intent on demolishing this part of the borough, and replacing it with flats and shops,” he says.
The current uncertainty over the future of Queen’s Park comes as Merton Council is in the throes of a housing development boom. In the past decade, Merton has granted 15 new permitted developments, which developers have introduced to its register, meaning they can’t be turned down by any local authorities — with applications thus able to be quickly approved and approved. It has also undertaken 227 park, sport and nature projects, representing one-third of the borough’s total £130 million ($175 million) investment.
While communities say they are doing all they can to keep housing stock low, not everyone’s happy about the increased activity. “Queens Park is already heavily used by wildlife and in the wild,” says Hayter. “It is important that it remains in the wild. We would much rather see the park remain green than turned into a big little shopping mall and housing estate, which is what people currently envision.”
Queen’s Park Neighbors raises concerns over a potential 200 homes on the site. Credit: Marks Lane Group Ltd
This is reflected in Jane Poots, the Southwark Council member responsible for development, who has countered: “We value Queen’s Park extremely highly but what we also want to do is get forward with housing that we would sell and cash back to our local community.” She adds that the process to provide “quality housing” is well underway.
“When you look at the cost of maintaining the park, and the difference that we make by not developing it, you really can see the returns,” says Poots. “The money that we put in, we have a fund that has increased, to £9 million ($11.3 million) over the last three years.”
Their vision for Queen’s Park, which is set for national approval in October, involves a development that the council says would deliver extra green space. New design guidelines would make the location more pleasant, Poots explains.
Queen’s Park Neighbors hopes this plan will prevent the “most damaging element of the proposal.”
“What will not be stopped is building for the market, but it has to be of high quality,” says Hayter.