Ealing Pledge Adds to Gunnersbury Confusion

Hounslow believes extra funding from council coffers is a 'fantasy'

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The ongoing uncertainty over the future of Gunnersbury Park was no closer to being cleared up this week after a string of contradictory announcements from the parties responsible for the park.

Hounslow and Ealing Council appear to be pulling further apart in their positions. This week at a borough Council meeting, Ealing Councillor Phil Taylor announced that the borough would be providing £5 million for the park. Previously, Ealing had unilaterally announced that they were ruling out the possibility of any building on the park being used to cover the massive financial shortfall.

The announcement came just as the member of Hounslow Council responsible for the park dismissed demands from the borough Liberal Democrats for a similar financial commitment as being “out of touch with the real world.”

Cllr. Andrew Dakers had called for Hounslow and Ealing Councils to both set aside £1m a year for the next 7-8 years to build up a capital fund to regenerate Gunnersbury House and Park.

Councillor Becky Stewart, Lead Member for Leisure at Hounslow Council said, “I refuse to live in the fantasy world occupied by Cllr Dakers and the Lib Dems where forcing borough residents to stump up an extra £8 million in taxes is viewed as the easy option! In the real world we are determined to carry on doing whatever we can to preserve and develop a full range of local leisure facilities for future generations, and this includes our work with English Heritage and Ealing on Gunnersbury Park.”

Although Hounslow Council evidently sees the suggestion as a ‘fantasy’, Ealing's £5m pledge makes it clear that they don't agree. Ealing's cabinet member for regeneration Cllr Phil Taylor is reported as saying, "£5 million is not enough for the whole project but it'll certainly mean we are keeping our end up. If Hounslow can meet us and funding bodies like English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery fund can do their bit we will get Gunnersbury looking as good as the rest of our parks.”

We have approached Cllr. Taylor and Ealing Council to clarify whether the funding is conditional on a similar commitment from Hounslow or English Heritage or whether Ealing are undertaking to financially support the park on their own. We have yet to receive a response.

Councillor Stewart of Hounslow said. "we are next meeting with Ealing Council to discuss Gunnersbury early in the New Year. Both councils recognise the different bank balances and different community demands and service priorities facing them as partners. We are looking forward to the meeting and to exploring options for ways forward; we are also hoping to be given full details of the proposal from Ealing that we first heard of some weeks ago, for £5 million from Ealing Council in extra funding for Gunnersbury."

With the two Councils apparently unable to agree on funding issues, the Friends of Gunnersbury Park & Museum resolved to take matters into their own hands and plan to ask English Heritage to serve a full Repairs Notice on the East Stable Block and an Urgent Works notice for the repair of five more buildings at Gunnersbury.

The Friends say they are calling for this action because "it is clear - both from long-term evidence and from actions in recent weeks - that the joint management of this estate between Ealing and Hounslow has completely failed."

"The Councils are unable to act together to meet the challenges which Gunnersbury faces, nor even to discharge their statutory obligations to protect the heritage. It is therefore time for English Heritage to act."

The notices would ensure repairs were carried out, if necessary under English Heritage’s auspices, and Ealing and Hounslow Councils, which own the buildings, would then be charged for the costs involved.

December 18, 2009