Hot on the heels of Thurrock Council’s controversial decision to sell of land at Blackshots used by Thurrock Rugby Club, they have made public their plans to sell off Elm Road Open Space in Grays to create a new school: Open space to be sold to make way for new school. As with the plans to sell land at Blackshots, with the Elm Road Open Space, there has been little in the way of meaningful consultation.
It would appear that this decision runs counter to what was proposed in the council’s Community Needs and Open Spaces Study which planned park and open space related needs through to 2021. The study ranked Elm Road Open Space 15th in a list of the quality of the council’s 28 available open spaces. As a result of this ranking and the tightly packed housing area adjacent to it, the park was designated as a potential site to be improved because of the growing local need for good quality open space. Well, with the decision to sell off the site, it looks as though Thurrock Council have trashed one of the recommendations of their own study!
When push comes to shove, the bean counters looking at the bottom line always win out over those who see the less easily quantifiable benefits of open space. This is despite numerous studies showing the health benefits of accessible parks: UK parks save NHS more than £111m a year, study suggests. Given how tightly packed the housing adjacent to Elm Road Open Space is and the lack of an alternative park within walking distance, given what’s known about the health benefits of parks, it beggars belief that Thurrock Council see fit to sell it off.
Elm Road Open Space was in need of improvement, that is undeniable. Is there a strategy of managed decline of a number of local parks, depressing user numbers to a point where the council say not enough people are using them to make it viable to keep spending money on them, thus turning those parks into assets to be sold? Cynical? Us? Guilty as charged and with good reason.
Is the strategy adopted by residents in Stanford-le-Hope with Hardie Park the way forward to prevent the council from being tempted to sell off parks to line their coffers? This is what they have achieved so far: Doing it for ourselves – saving our parks. A thriving, much loved community asset that with the numerous activities associated with it, particularly the volunteering, provides clear health benefits to the community.
Sure, the expansion of schools requires land but in our view, there’s an ample supply of brownfield and marginal agricultural land close to existing settlements to provide that land. Flogging off a park is a short sighted, narrow minded move that will have adverse consequences for the surrounding community in the future. That’s if the community surrounding Elm Road Open Space let the council get away with this. We sincerely hope that they will fight this decision tooth and nail. If they choose to do so, they’ll have our backing.