Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Cuts and Consultation

In December 2010, news reports suggested that jobs were under threat at Islington's Ecology Centre and Gillespie Park local nature reserve.

The Friends of Gillespie Park have been around for as long as the Park itself - 25 years this year. The park exists because of a community campaign to 'save the sidings' which resulted in the park - then a railway siding- being transferred to the Council for just one pound, for the benefit of the community.

The Friends have been pressing the Council to tell them what is proposed for the park and Ecology Centre, amidst fears that job cuts could make the park less safe. But the new Executive member for the Environment, Paul Smith, failed even to answer their emails.

When the draft budget was published, it showed £750,000 being slashed from the sustainability budget, which includes the Ecology Centre.

On Tuesday, at an emergency meeting with the Friends and concerned local residents, the Council was again pressed to consult the Friends on what was proposed. The response from the new Council leader, Catherine West, was that the Council could 'no longer afford' to consult people - it was, she said, too expensive.

But consultation doesn't need to mean glossy brochures or expensive consultants. Consultation simply means talking to the people involved at an early stage when all the options are still on the table, and taking their thoughts into account when you reach your view. Done properly, in a case like this, it will probably cost nothing at all - and the Friends' twenty-five years knowledge and experience of the Park will be invaluable in finding suitable ways to safeguard it now for future generations to enjoy.

I'm glad to say that Council officers have now agreed to meet the Friends to explore the options. With any luck this will be a constructive process and the decisions ultimately reached will be the best that they can be in the difficult circumstances we are now facing.

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