The Battle for Victoria Park

20141010-233116-84676947.jpgGlasgow City Council have put about a quarter of the area of my local park, old blaes pitches, now lately grassed over and quite riddled with puddles, up on a commercial property website to seek bids.

It isn’t the first time locals have had to fight a change of use for that area – it was proposed as a car park for Scotstoun Leisure centre a couple of years ago- a proposal that was seen off by local campaigners.

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However this time two community groups seem to be gearing up to fight each other over the use of the pitches. Friends of Victoria Park propose a community orchard for the nearly 7 acre site, and have been at the forefront of fighting commercial plans for the site – getting a turnout of 200 people to a local meeting to discuss council plans for the Park.

Another group – Broomhill sports club (BSC) – a club for local kids that runs football and netball training for all ages from P1 and operates out of various venues but has no home of its own, is also interested in using the pitch. They have proposed all-weather pitches, changing facilities and a cafe for the site which will be self funding and available for schools and other groups to use at other times.

The options are being very much portrayed to the community around the park as an either/or choice. Only one or the other can prevail.

The two groups have, apparently, tried to come together on a joint proposal but talks broke down. My analysis, that may well be wrong, is that the demographic of friends of Victoria Park is generally older without children still at home, and they prefer the quieter orchard proposal, whereas the BSC propose a model covering the whole area to maximize the area for sport, a building for changing rooms etc and to allow it to have economy of scale that would allow for it to cover costs, which would allow no space for the orchard.

Both groups are expert campaigners – they know how to raise profile and attract the media’s attention. The recent demonstration in the park against commercial use of the park got a front page mention in The Herald newspaper and BSC recently had an article talking about their long term plans for a stadium close to their west end roots (I’m wondering whether this is the Victoria Park proposal or some other place)
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However there is a danger that, while two groups vie for local attention and council agreement, the actual local community around the park become confused, disillusioned, and distracted from the reality that the council is intending to use the park for commercial reasons. There is no one community position to coalesce around and many people shy away from disagreements locally and would rather stay uninvolved.

There is room for a third view. One where there is space enough for an all-weather football pitch, but not on the scale envisaged by BSC, but also for a community growing space and orchard. The old blaes pitches are vast, seven acres is far too big an area to have a manageable sized community orchard or community growing space/allotments. But also occupying the whole area with sports pitches and associated buildings, especially on the scale suggested by BSC would be too much for the park environment, and much of the area could be lost to community use.

Why can’t we have both better sports facilities and a community orchard? Let’s campaign for both. And let’s have a cafe too – some commercial activity is surely a good thing- we could knock through the fence separating the brilliant bowling/golf/tennis area and link the sports pitch up to be minded from there and convert and extend the little brick building by the bowls/tennis courts into a cafe and nice(r) toilets.

If we can get these two effective and influential community groups working on what would be best for the community rather than polarizing opinion around two, not mutually exclusive, options then we will win. If the two groups are set to fight each other, we are in a prisoners dilemma situation where the only winner will be the council who will find it far easier to get their commercial interests through.

I have written to my councilors and here is what they think …..

Here is land campaigner Andy Wightman’s view on Victoria Park as common good land

Also – why not let me know what you think – I have made a little survey. Please take the survey here.

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What our councillors think

I wrote to three of our four councillors (two are SNP and share casework so so only write to one of them) to ask their opinion on the use of the blaes pitches and to give my view if the situation as unnecessarily polarized.
The background to this post is detailed Here.

Here is my letter
Dear …..
I am writing regarding the plans of Glasgow City Council for the former blaes pitches at Victoria Park. There is some opposition to developing the site from the Friends of Victoria Park, who are advocating an Orchard, but also a proposal from Broomhill Sports Club for a sports facility for children from the area.

I am worried that these are being portrayed as mutually exclusive and thereby splitting and confusing locals as to what to support. Most of the people I know in Jordanhill and Broomill have families and children who benefit from the massive amount of volunteer effort and sheer hard work that BSC put into helping our kids and young people get involved in sport. They are a fantastic club – absolutely non-elitist and inclusive of all abilities, while also performing at the highest levels.

BSC has received very little support in terms of finance and facilities from Glasgow City Council and thrive due to the parental and volunteer support they have. In an area like Glasgow with appalling stats on heath and activity, especially for the young, we should be doing all we can to support BSC and what they most desperately need is a facility to develop the sport of West Glasgow’s youngsters (who don’t just come from Broomhill and Jordanhill, but also Whiteinch, Partick, Hillhead and much further afield.)

I understand that FoVP are against the proposals for sports facilities and feel that this may be due to the demographic represented in the group (older people, generally without school-age kids) the vast numbers of parents in the area around Victoria Park are simply not represented by FoVP.

Having said all this, I do not see a pitch and an orchard as mutually exclusive. The space is vast that is being considered and would be far far too big for a community orchard or garden or such like alone. There is certainly room to have some community growing space, which I would support wholeheartedly, and also a facility for BSC.

And, dare I say it, there would even be space for a small cafe, in the model of the park cafe in Kelvingrove Park – An Clachan…. so some commercial development, that would be in keeping with the park and the aims of the park, and the enjoyment of the citizens that use the park.

I would be interested in hearing your opinion
Yours

Here is Councillor Feargal Dalton’s response (SNP) Many thanks for your thoughts. I agree totally with your analysis of the situation. Last year I tried to get BSC and FoVP to work together and for a time they did. However, relations have somewhat deteriorated which is really unfortunate. Also the approval by the Council’s Executive for a café is not necessarily linked to the blaes pitch, so an ‘An Clachan’ for Victoria Park can happen regardless on any plans for the blaes pitch. I have previously put this to LES and advised them that local people would probably prefer a café to be closer to the pond/play area which could, of course, be at the south eastern corner of the blaes pitch area.

Last week I and other councillors (Kenny McLean and Graeme Hendry) where scheduled to meet Brian Butler from Land and Environmental Services but the meeting was cancelled. He is now on holidays for two weeks.

He has said that local councillors will be consulted on any proposals but having now been a councillor for over two years I worry about what form the consultation will take; being told how the council has come to its decision and presented with the details of that decision.

I have made it clear to LES that whatever they decide to do, it must have the support of the local community which is most definitely must not be a private venture. More experienced councillors reckon they won’t go against a very savvy, politically aware local community.

So, we are no clearer on what is being discussed behind closed doors in City Chambers but when I hear anything I will let you know.

Please feel free to share the contents of this email with others in your local network.

Kind regards

Feargal

Here is Councillor Aileen Colleran’s response (Labour)

Hi and thanks for getting in touch – I am aware of the excellent work done by BSC and whilst they’ve not had direct grant funding from the council it was the access to Hyndland Secondary pitches which got them started so its not entirely the case that they’ve had little or no support from the council and over the years I’ve been party to many a discussion with their office bearers and Glasgow Life staff about enabling them to access more facilities but am aware of the aspiration to have a venue of their own.
I agree the FOVP orchard proposal and pitch renewal doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive but that has to come from the community groups themselves and am not sure that’s on either group’s agenda.
I do favour the community orchard/garden proposal on the grounds that its low cost and therefore achievable, it’s also sustainable and environmentally sound. The space is large but the local dog walkers would probably appreciate it if part of the site could remain as an open space (and grassed over although it’s more green than red now anyway).
My main concern is if a third party proposal comes in for a commercial development – I have already indicated to Cllr Watson and officers I’m totally opposed to that. Not that I oppose the idea of leasing an existing building for a cafe or facility its the thought of a new build (with parking no doubt) on the blaes pitch that isn’t appropriate. I agree the An Clachan cafe is great (although I do remember that came in for opposition at the time !) and I would like to see better catering /toilet facilities in Victoria Park which is why the building at the tennis courts should be looked at , not the blaes pitches.
Hope that’s helpful – and we should be hearing something soon re what’s proposed – will let you know.
Regards
Aileen

Here is Councillor Martin Bartos’ Response (Scottish Green)

Thanks for getting in touch looking for something for your blog, I’m sorry I’ve not been able to keep you and many others as up to date as I would like and I should be clear I have to be careful about the position I take because I sit on the Planning Committee and need to avoid bias on issues which might come before the committee. From what I have seen/heard there is a valid case in principle with both proposals – an orchard on a derelict space in a park, sports pitches on derelict football pitches – but there are also questions which both sides need to answer and it’s not quite as simple an issue as anyone might claim.

Any proposals at the blaes pitches would need to take account of the other facilities the Council runs for the public and fit within wider plans for the park eg there is a serious proposal to improve the visitor facilities at the Fossil Grove involving multi-million pound investment. I would be surprised if a major investment in a Fossil Grove visitor centre to properly showcase that exceptional Site of Special Scientific Interest would not require disabled parking and drop off arrangements. Such arrangements might impact either proposal (though I personally generally hope car parking can be minimised or avoided to discourage local congestion).

I don’t think anything is happening on this very quickly – it is awaiting the commercial manager who has just been on leave after the Commonwealth Games and it will also probably involve Cllr Alistair Watson (Labour’s executive member responsible for parks). The decision making process will also inevitably be slowed down by having the Fossil Grove in the mix and I don’t think either community proposal is particularly deadline driven to require an instant response – though the public always fear the worst when they don’t know what’s happening.

In my view, it would be sensible to allow council officers to go to public consultation about the options having rigorously reviewed them – something they’ve been promising to do for months to anyone willing to listen to them.

All the best
Martin