Letter: Parks and cemeteries in peril

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The Independent Online
Sir: Susan Lasdun ('Dark age of the public park', 27 July) is right to call attention to the lack of statutory protection for public urban parks. There is a need to open up the debate on the purpose and future of these parks now that the world for which they were acquired has changed, particularly through the spread of car ownership.

For the last decade we have been observing the two London boroughs (Ealing and Hounslow), which jointly own Gunnersbury Park, losing the battle to conserve the park and its historic buildings. Today the stables, the East Lodge, Princess Amelia's Bath-house, the Potomac Tower, balustrades, arches, gates and even lamp standards (all listed) are in ruins. Even the two inhabited mansions are facing massive repairs, resulting from years of cut-backs in funding. Yet, throughout these years, we have had in English Heritage an agency similar to Susan Lasdun's proposal for parks.

While historic buildings' legislation can be powerful in the hands of local authorities over private owners, it is less effective when councils themselves are the owners, for their decisions are made within the annual spending round. A parks agency will need great reserves of authority and financial influence to meet the challenge.

The article was mistaken in saying that, in 1990, part of Gunnersbury Park was sold for building. At that time, the park's management committee was in favour of a scheme to fund the restoration of the stables with an office building, but Hounslow was opposed and the scheme - like many others - came to nothing. Many things can destroy 'the spirit of the place'. We have found a long period in the public ownership of two conflicting councils to be remarkably effective.

Yours faithfully,

JAMES WISDOM

Chairman

Friends of Gunnersbury Park

and Museum

London, W4

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