Sunday, 5 October 2014

Will Play Football Regenerate or Ruin Hammersmith Park?

Residents at White City Community Centre
On Thursday 2nd October a meeting was held at the White City Community Centre to help decide the future of Hammersmith Park. Play Football, the sports operator which last year won planning permission to lease around half of the Park and build approximately thirteen new pay-to-play football pitches, was there to hear the views of local residents. It was not a convivial evening.

Hammersmith Park - part of the green lungs of our city
Around 100 people showed up, largely gathered through word-of-mouth from local residents' associations, to hear what Play Football had to say. The meeting was a very angry one and one had to feel a bit sorry for Barry Hunter of Play Football, who had to field questions - and accusations - from a very hostile crowd.

Barry Hunter - under pressure

The general tone of the meeting was this: how is it that local residents' associations were not consulted about an issue of such local importance? Few residents' associations had heard about the plans in time to offer a view. For my part, the first I heard of it was in Rotten Boroughs in Private Eye in January of this year.
Private Eye, January 2014

Almost all the people at the meeting appeared to be opposed to the plans, which are in the process of tearing out the old sports facilities at the park, and replacing them with new football pitches, only a few of which will be free for local residents. The majority of the pitches must be paid for.

How It Will Look

There were, to be fair, a few voices in support. A couple of young men in their late teens or early twenties voiced their support for the plan, which will bring them the opportunity to play football on much better facilities, some of which would be for the use of the local community for free. They also pointed out that such pitches help to "get young people off the streets". Their voice was, however, very much in the minority, but even those who opposed the Play Football plans did sympathise with the need to provide good facilities for young people to play sports.

Hammersmith Park
The real question, however, was how far Play Football would - or could - go to accommodate local views. Planning permission was given by the outgoing Council in 2013 and the new Labour administration does not (presumably) have the power or the right to void the contract. If this is right, them that would explain why the Labour councillors present were reluctant to speak out against it, although local MP Andy Slaughter was present and was vocal in his opposition to the proposals.

So will Play Football enforce the contract against such strong local opposition? Or will they, as local residents seem to want, go back to the planning stage and fully consult local residents?

To read more about Play Football's plans, see this post here at  To visit Play Football's official site, follow this link.

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