Action urged to save Gunnersbury Park

'Failed management' has resulted in 'appalling neglect'


Gunnersbury Park Museum, Pope’s Lane, Acton, W3 8LQ

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Gunnersbury Park Museum

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The current management structure for Gunnersbury Park and Museum has been dubbed a failure by both the Friends of Gunnersbury Park and experts commissioned to investigate the park's decline. There is now a widespread belief that management of the park by a dedicated 'social enterprise' is the only way to protect it for future generations.

Currently the park is jointly administered by Ealing and Hounslow Councils but they have been unable to provide sufficient funding for proper maintenance and this has resulted in listed buildings within the park not being properly maintained and the state of the park being described by the Friends as 'appalling'.

A report prepared by Arup Research who reviewed the potential of the two mansions in the park has suggested that consideration should be given to converting them into a hotel or residential units. A second study, prepared by The Parks Agency, has highlighted the lack of investment and estimated that in order to restore the estate the two councils would have to contribute £2.75m in partnership funding to obtain grant support from bodies like Heritage Lottery Fund.

Both reports concluded that the joint management structure and the low priority given to the park by both Hounslow and Ealing Councils had resulted in the poor quality of the grounds and buildings maintenance. The Parks Agency said "the track record of the joint arrangement from the 1970s onwards can be judged by the current condition of the park, proof that it has not been effective". The reports recognised the financial constraints that the boroughs operate under but said that the current arrangement was leading to a strategic malaise which made improvement difficult. The failure of so many attempts to find a solution to the restoration of the Stables was used to illustrate the deficiencies of the current set up.

The recent Annual General Meeting of the Friends was well attended with over 40 people packed into the Terrace Room of the Small Mansion in the Park. There was a detailed discussion about the future of the Gunnersbury Park estate, in the light of the proposals to create a new body, a “social enterprise”. There was broad agreement amongst members that the current arrangements for the management of the Park could not continue and that the Friends should support and be involved in the development of proposals for the future.

James Wisdom, the Chairman, said, “The Friends have been struggling for nearly 25 years to find a future for Gunnersbury. It is clear we cannot continue with the current arrangements. I am pleased that the Friends have agreed so clearly that a change is needed and we will work now to help ensure that any new organisation for the management of the park and the museum are successful”.

There was also discussion at the meeting about the need for a careful balance between the commercial activity and the public facilities which people wanted to see continue. Parallels in other parks were considered and it was felt any commercial activity needed to be planned with care so that access to the park was not restricted as a result.

There was strong support for seeing education in art (such as the Small Mansion Art Centre) and horticulture (such as Capel Manor) continue at Gunnersbury. In addition, everyone wanted to protect the Museum, as it might be seen to be an obstacle to commercial activity and therefore in danger. There was general recognition that the Museum was burdened with poorly maintained premises and a change of location might improve its identity.

A report by the Joint Committee has raised three options for the future of the park. The first, to retain the existing structure, is unlikely to be adopted. The second which would transfer the management of the park to a single council would require a large endowment by the Council that was withdrawing and is therefore unlikely to proceed.

The third option, the one favoured by the Friends and the Park Agency, is to re-launch Gunnersbury as a social enterprise and hand management and/or ownership to an independent trust. It has also been recognised by the leaders of the two Councils that this is the only way forward. The success of the Friends of Dukes Meadows in Chiswick in regenerating what was a previously neglected area has been cited as a positive example of this structure in action. Chiswick House Grounds has also recently been transferred to a trust and is in the process of bidding for a significant amount of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The proposals are to be considered at a meeting the Gunnersbury Park Joint Committee on 9th December.

November 23, 2005