Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Mountsfield Park: cause for cautious optimism

I attended a meeting last night between Lewisham Council's team working on parks and regeneration and the Friends of Mountsfield Park.

We discussed where the council are up to with progressing three aspects of the park's development: the community food-growing garden, the play/gym equipment, and the cafe. On all three of these there are definite grounds to be cautiously optimistic about the future.

Community food-growing garden
Twenty-two people have expressed an interest in being involved with this. It will be situated in the former bowling green area, which is between the George Lane/Stainton Road entrances to the park. The council will be bidding for pocket parks funding from the Mayor of London. They will be asking for £35,000 and this will be match funded from section 106 money. The total cost of the development of the community garden will be just over £75,000. The plan is to open up the site completely, removing the ugly Leylandii and hopefully retaining the existing low fence. There are also two containers on this site that are in reasonable condition and could be used as storage etc for the the volunteers' equipment. The bid will go in by the beginnning of August and we should hear by the end of September whether or not this has been successful.

Play and gym equipment
The council intends to put in a bid to the Marathon Trust for £67,000 and this will be match-funded up to £134,000 from section 106 money. This will be to put in some outdoor gym/trim trail equipment and to upgrade the play equipment. Not all of this work is dependent on receiving this funding, but whatever is received from this then does not have to come out of money that could be used for the cafe. The maintenance costs for this need to be low, so water play is pretty much out of the question. A drinking water fountain is intended to be provided though, as has been done in other parks.

The council's feasibility study has decided that a cafe in the park is feasible, which is excellent news. The next steps are therefore to engage consultants in planning and a tender setting out the specification will be prepared in August, with selection in September through a procurement process that will go into October/November. Further detail is then built into the plans, with user consultation, planning consents etc. The aim would be to get a contractor on board by August 2014 and the plan would then be to have everything ready by April/May 2015.

We talked about a range of types of building from shipping containers (which cost around £1,000 a square metre), through modular buildings (which cost around twice that) to bespoke buildings (which interestingly cost about the same as modular). The council has set a minimum size of 75 square metres. The Friends group unanimously thought this was too small, and the council stressed this is a minimum and more might be possible. The group was also pretty much agreed that they would prefer a bespoke building but that modified containers would probably be the best option if the bespoke option wasn't possible. There was a fairly lively discussion about the merits of the container option, but I think if it means the cafe can be bigger that's probably a good reason to go for it.

We also talked about management models, which also generated a lot of discussion, as did the issue of security and the age-old problem of anti-social behaviour. The plan with that is to try as far as possible to use the strategy employed in other parks of designing this out, rather than the more draconian (and ultimately pointless) option of installing CCTV.

It was a good and positive meeting, and I'm looking forward to seeing how this now develops. The team that are working on this in the council have done some good things with other parks, so lets see what they can do with Mountsfield to turn it into the park it deserves to be. (and I hope this post doesn't come back to bite me in a few months...)