'Housing Only Way to Save Gunnersbury Park'

James Wisdom says there is little choice for residents in consultation

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At last the consultation document has been published, and circulated to every household within two miles of the Park. It is also on the web*. This may be one of the most important moments in the last 30 years of the saga of this estate. Please encourage your friends and neighbours to complete the questionnaire.

What does it say? More importantly, what doesn’t it say?

It appears to present options, but the significant fact is that there are no real choices. Jura Consultants have taken all the proposals, all the suggestions, all the ideas – both sensible and zany – and established that the only way to get the place back on its feet is to sell some parkland for housing. Their report, and much background detail, can be found on the Park web site.

Their estimates of the costs – around £21m – are a measure of the disaster that has been wreaked upon the Park and the Museum from the decades of underfunding and inaction. This state of affairs is directly the responsibility of both Ealing and Hounslow Councils.

What is missing is any recognition of that responsibility, or any long-term proposal for ensuring that this shambles does not continue.

However, we should praise both Councils for at last tackling the issue. With local elections coming in May 2010 they may falter, but – who knows? - there may even be votes in sorting this out once and for all.

It is a measure of the strength of Jura’s work that they have managed to find a workable proposal. Many of those closest to this saga had been fearing that the only way out of the failure of joint ownership was by the sale of the whole estate.

Some aspects of their proposals are very strong. The grand rooms of the Large Mansion were designed for entertaining. The Museum has always found it hard to use them successfully. We know there is a high demand for function and conferences facilities and a restaurant.

The proposals for the Museum are very exciting. It is one of the longest-established local museums in London and has been collecting for over 80 years. This fantastic asset, if properly displayed in the Small Mansion, could tell a great story of the people and the development of west London.

Despite coming up with a stream of proposals for the use of the Stables, the Friends know just how hard it has been to find a future for these buildings, because of their position in the park. A Museum store with the potential to open up the collections to us all is a remarkably clever proposal.

The improvement of the landscape has been a high priority since the first HLF-funded proposals of the 1990s, and the Conservation Management Plan has given us a fully-researched basis for this work. Especially significant would be the impact on the Park of allowing visitors through what is now the Pitch and Putt area, removing the bottleneck between the pond and the playground and opening up the centre of the formal landscape for a much fuller enjoyment of the grounds.

The consultation has quite cleverly separated the Sports proposals from the rest. There is no question that Gunnersbury needs new changing rooms and a modern approach to providing facilities for sport and recreation. We no longer have 500 male footballers on a Sunday morning all trying to take a shower at the same time. Work on these proposals should continue whatever happens elsewhere in the Park.

But the price of this is very high. To walk along the proposed building land is to weave between some wonderful mature trees. With its self-sown saplings, the tree belt is a rich and thick perimeter defence for the Park. The layout and buildings would have to be hugely imaginative to deserve a place in this park, and there are so many agencies which would expect to have their say (English Heritage, the Council for Architecture and the Built Environment, the Mayor of London and the two Councils – for starters) that we will probably end up with work that is a series of compromises rather than something that might, just, add beauty to the place.

What might happen now?

One outcome might be that thousands of people get behind the proposals and say clearly that they cannot put up with the current state of the Park, its buildings and the Museum, that they want something better for themselves and their children, and they support the proposals, even at the expense of the loss of some land and some trees.

Another might be that the opposition to the loss of some land and some trees is very vocal and angry, and that thousands of people are persuaded to resist the proposals, even at the expense of the continuing decline of the rest of the estate.

A third (which is the one that has been happening in practice for the last 20-30 years) is that alternatives are proposed and the Councils call for further reports and new studies. There is the appearance of activity, but nothing really happens, no one takes the praise or the blame, the costings in the original reports start to decay, along with the buildings, the facilities and the landscape.

The Friends have been in existence since 1981 and in all that time these proposals are the best chance Gunnersbury has had to transform itself into the place it deserves to be. I would suggest we support the plans in principle, but tell the Councils that they have lost the moral authority to run the place in the future as they have in the past. We need a new approach to managing this Park. We cannot expect the next generation to have to go through this again.

James Wisdom

Chairman - Friends of Gunnersbury Park and Museum

Article originally publish on Friends of Gunnersbury Park and Museum Web Site and republished with kind permission.



Online questionnaire


August 12, 2009