An artist's impression the new park. Picture: Wandsworth Council
September 5, 2023
Wandsworth Council has been accused of failing to secure a new 32-acre public park for future generations after deciding not to buy it for Â£1. Conservatives councillors in the boroughhave raised concerns about the future of Springfield Park, in Tooting, following the decision. It has been dubbed the biggest park to open in the capital since the Olympic Games.
The park is opening to the public in phases, as part of a major revamp of Springfield Hospital to create Springfield Village. The village will include more than 800 flats, two mental health facilities, shops, a cafÃ©, a care home and land for a new school when it is completed by 2026. The project is being carried out by South West London and St Georgeâ€™s Mental Health NHS Trust, master developer STEP and other partners.
A spokesperson for the Springfield Village development partners told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) the parkâ€™s management company, which includes the NHS trust, will make sure it remains high quality and accessible to everyone. Wandsworth Council added that it will work with the partners to ensure the park is delivered and maintained at no extra cost to the authority.
But the council has come under fire for its decision not to adopt the park which it said was partly due to the cost of maintaining it. However, one knock-on effect of not adopting it is that, rather than the council paying for its maintenance, residents in the newly built homes may have to foot the bill.
It had the option to take ownership of the park under a legal agreement it entered into with the trust in June 2012, while the council was being led by the Conservatives. This was part of outline planning permission for the hospital revamp, granted on appeal that year.
The agreement required the trust to serve the council with an adoption notice giving it 30 working days to decide if it wished to adopt the park, including all management and maintenance costs. Freehold of the park would then have been transferred to the council for Â£1.
Wandsworth Conservatives said it negotiated this clause in the agreement so the council had the option, which it claimed would secure it for future generations. But the Conservatives lost control of the council when it switched to Labour for the first time in 44 years at the local elections in May 2022.
The trust served the council with the adoption notice in August 2022. A report for the councilâ€™s overview and scrutiny committee, held on June 27 this year, said the trust had been â€œopen to the council taking longer to consider this issueâ€.
The report estimated it would cost around Â£180,000 a year to maintain the park and a previously agreed endowment fund of at least Â£900,000 would only fund five yearsâ€™ maintenance. It recommended the council did not adopt the park â€œdue to the positive social benefits the continuing ownership by the trust will bring and to the ongoing revenue commitment adoption of the park would create for the councilâ€.
The report added the â€œfunding for the ongoing management and maintenance would be met through levying a service charge on the occupiers of the developmentâ€ if the council did not adopt the park. The legal agreement means the trust must continue to make the park available to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
At the meeting on 27 June, Conservative councillor Peter Graham said the council had the chance to buy the park â€œto secure it as a public asset, run for the public benefitâ€. He said the park is the â€œlargest new park in London outside the Olympics for decadesâ€.
He said: â€œIf the council took ownership we could even rejig the Section 106 pot which still has millions left in it to fund it for much longer than five years, and all our other parks draw on alternative sources of capital funding.â€
But the committee voted to support officersâ€™ recommendations not to adopt the park, with six councillors voting in favour and three against. The decision was green-lit by the councilâ€™s executive on July 17.
Wandsworth Conservatives said the decision leaves the park â€œin some jeopardyâ€. The group said, â€œA new board that has yet to be agreed will need to determine the basis on which the park is run, and the standards adopted. After five years, running costs would probably default onto the service charges of people in the new homes, including those moving into affordable housing.â€
Responding to the criticism, a Wandsworth Council spokesperson said: â€œSpringfield Park is great news for the community and great news for Wandsworth â€“ a place local families are already starting to enjoy. Wandsworth Council currently invests more than Â£3.2million a year in looking after the boroughâ€™s council-maintained parks and open spaces.
â€œWe want to ensure weâ€™re continuing to support people with the cost of living by keeping council tax low and providing the most generous cost of living support fund in London. By working with Springfield Village partners including South West London and St Georgeâ€™s Mental Health NHS Trust, Wandsworth residents can look forward to an outstanding new public park that will be delivered and maintained without additional financial support from the council.â€
A spokesperson for the Springfield Village development partners, said: â€œThe first areas of Springfield Park, in the newly-opened Springfield Village, are beginning to open for the whole community to enjoy. The park has been designed to support the mental health of our local population and break mental health stigma as part of the transformation of the Springfield University Hospital site.
â€œAcross 32 acres, the park will include play areas, sensory gardens, a youth shelter, an amphitheatre, areas for informal sport, ponds and over 700 new trees â€“ enhancing local biodiversity and boosting our communityâ€™s wellbeing for generations to come.
â€œThe park will be managed in the same way as parks like the Olympic Park. Its management company, which includes South West London and St Georgeâ€™s Mental Health NHS Trust, will ensure that the park remains high quality and is accessible for everyone to use and enjoy. Working collaboratively with our local communities, we will support this vibrant new space as it comes to life.â€