HARROW Council is making a mistake with the West Harrow Park development.

The council kindly arranged a meeting with residents in West Harrow on June 16 to explain their plans to develop West Harrow Park. In short, Harrow is proposing to lease land in West Harrow Park for 35 years and beyond to a private company to operate an all-weather tennis club. In return for effectively handing over part of the park in perpetuity we are promised toilet facilities and the refurbishment of two municipal tennis courts.

Although superficially attractive, this development should be resisted. The area of land required for this development is large and will mean that the basketball hoops are lost entirely (apparently not to be replaced) and the children's play area must be reduced.

There will also be an imposing domed structure to house the private courts. This will mean that the pleasant sight line from the children's play area across the courts to the conservation area will be lost. If the proposed amenity is successful and is able to generate the substantial funds the council expects, it will need to draw people to the park from way beyond the local area - inevitably increasing car pressure on local streets.

More importantly, there is a real question over whether the needs of the local community, especially the young and those on limited incomes who will never be able to afford club fees, will be best met through this privatised development.

The huge advantage of municipal courts is that they help develop a strong community through the shared participation and use of facilities. We need more green spaces and informal meeting places that promote the use of the park for everyone - including those who can't play tennis but just want to knock a ball around with friends and family and chat.

It is vital that any development for West Harrow Park should have a low impact on the environment and be sustainable - with a presumption that all the facilities will be used by young people and local schools for free. Our aim should be to improve West Harrow Park in an inclusive way to make it more welcoming and enjoyable for everyone - not just to those who can afford it.

Harrow Council officers and councilors are adamant there is no more money to look after our parks and no alternative to the proposed lease. But it seems extraordinary, given the level of Harrow council tax, that there are insufficient funds available for refurbishing the tennis courts and basket ball hoops at West Harrow Park and elsewhere. Dave Corby, Harrow Park facilities manager, at the meeting on June 16 suggested that refurbishment might cost about £250,000. Not an inconsiderable sum but significantly less than the millions that will be required for the rumoured rebuilding of the council offices. Let's have tennis and fun in Harrow Parks instead.

I understand that Championing Harrow is the brand under which Harrow is responding to the opportunity of the Olympic and Paralympic Games coming to London in 2012.

In order to create opportunities for Harrow inspired by the Olympics, Harrow Council has established a Championing Harrow task force.

Perhaps a small practical step for the task force might be to think again on the West Harrow Park development.


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