(R.17) - Mayoral Candidates Meeting - St. James' Church 11 April 2000

At St James' Church Piccadilly on Tuesday 11th April, 2000, Frank Dobson, Steve Norris, Ken Livingstone, Darren Johnson and Susan Kramer took part in a mayoral discussion hosted by Jon Snow. The following question was asked by Suzanne Elkin, Press Officer of the Crystal Palace Campaign.

"Do you think it is right for councils to have the power to sell off parkland and open space for commercial or other types of development, against the wishes of local people, as in the case of the massive multiplex cinema development on 12 acres of the historic Crystal Palace Park, the largest development of its type in the south of England? This would appear to be a failure of the supposed democratic planning system."

Frank Dobson - "Well I personally wouldn't want to sell off any open space and I think I probably wouldn't be here, I wouldn't have been an MP, I wouldn't have been in the cabinet, I wouldn't have been leader of Camden Council, if ages and ages ago I hadn't been involved in laying out lots of little parks and medium sized parks all over Camden. Because firstly that was the first job I got when I got on to Camden Council and secondly nothing had been done about them and we needed to improve them. And having parks, having open spaces is absolutely crucial to city living because they provide the gardens for the people who've got no gardens and most people in London don't have a garden, well they don't have a garden that anyone outside London would recognise as a garden. So I think we've really got to do that. But if we've got them, we've got to make them safe, we really do. Because there's far too much vandalism, loutish behaviour, and so very many people who would like to use an open space, sit out in a park, take their toddlers out for a walk that sort of thing, are frightened to do so. So we've got to deal with that."

Steve Norris - "It's a fact of life in my opinion that there's enough brown field land to build another London. There isn't enough green space in London for so many people in areas where it is their only effective recreational space. So I personally find it very difficult to envisage circumstances where it would be justified to take some of that greenery away. And I think you will find that we all share that view. A city will ultimately survive by the extent to which it's able to breathe, and I think the green lungs of London ought to attract a very very very high premium value indeed."

Ken Livingstone - "I will take any of the remaining green space in London, there's too little of it. We have all the brown field sites we need to develop housing and new employment, particularly out towards the Thames corridor and it would be a disaster to loose what little of our green spaces remain. I think we need to actually do more to develop them, make them more accessible. And Frank talks about how a lot of people don't feel safe in many of our parks - now I can recall as a kid, we used to have LCC park keepers going around on their bikes - you felt secure and it's this withdrawal of the bus conductors, park keepers, not just the lack of police numbers, that's what makes people feel more vulnerable in the city."

Darren Johnson - "On the issue of open space, you've heard from all the candidates, as Ken said before though, just as it's not an accident that there's this huge gap between rich and poor that's growing ever more in London, it's not an accident that our open space is being eroded as local authorities are actually giving planning permission for things to be built on our green open space and are actually selling it off. It's on a day to day basis. You've got Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative Councillors who are actually giving planning permission for these developments. So it is a political issue and the Mayor has got to wade in and start to veto developments on green sites such as the Crystal Palace one, which I think has brought the whole planning process and the whole democratic process into disrepute. It's a very great blight on London's politics that that decision was ever made (applause) so we do need to be really serious about protecting our open space and looking after it as Ken and Frank have both said and not just make it an issue of political rhetoric."

Susan Kramer - "Yes the Mayor will finally have the powers to overrule planning and other kinds of planning powers to deal with this nibbling away of green space across the city. Can I say there is also a need for it to work with the boroughs to change the way that they get funding because it is out of financial desperation that many of the boroughs are turning to their green spaces as a way to meet other challenges and other demands in their community. So you have to pull the whole thing together to make it effective."

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