I went to a public meeting last night on the future of Telford Town Park.
We’re quite fortunate in Telford in that when the town was built back in the 60’s, a huge amount of park land was given to the town with a covenent designating it as a park.
However, wide open spaces in the middle of towns are very attractive to developers and councillors alike, all of which see pound signs rolling in front of their eyes if they could just concrete over all that nasty green stuff.
The Liebour council that lost control of the town earlier this year for the first time since the council was created decided that it would finance the “regeneration” of the town centre by selling off the ice rink and bowling alley that it owns and rebuilding them on the park.
For those of you that don’t know Telford, the town centre isn’t actually a town centre in the traditional sense. Telford is a new town, artifically created by filling in the gaps between a collection of old towns. Nobody lives in the town centre, it’s a shopping centre circled by a three lane perimeter road (part of which is now the obligitory contra-flow bus lane) which, in turn, is surrounded by offices and car parks and … the town park.
When the shopping centre closes for the night so does the town centre. What the council want to do is create a town centre venue that’s open from 6 in the morning to midnight.
The cabinet member with responsibility for the town park, Councillor Dennis Allen, explained it thus: if you want a revitalised town centre with a night life then it has to be built together. This leads me to ask two important questions – do Telford residents want the kind of town centre proposed and if so, do they want it there?
The thing with a new town – and this is certainly the case with Telford – is that it has lots of town centres and the centre of the new town isn’t necessarily one of them. The actual town of Telford has four main town centres – Dawley, Madeley, Oakengates and Wellington. In fact, Telford was originally called Dawley New Town and Dawley was intended to be the focus of the town.
So, assuming that people do want a town centre venue with a night life, do they actually want it where the shopping centre is? Would they prefer it in one of the old towns or even wherever the council are going to put the 55,000 new houses they’ve agreed to build in the next 20 years?
I can’t answer that because I don’t know. The council don’t know either because they haven’t asked.
In the past the council have taken away bits of the park, including the bit that they planned to rebuild the ice rink and bowling alley. At least, they think they have. But you can’t overturn or amend a legal covenent with a vote of councillors – you have to go to court and get it done, it’s a legal contract with the person who donated the land. Legally, the parts of the park that the council decided would no longer be part of the park are sill part of the park.
I’ve taken some positive steps today – I’ve been speaking to a few people, including the clerk of one of the parish councils in Telford who has some experience in this area. I intend to apply to get the town park registered as a common or village green (it doesn’t have to be in a village). If I’m successful – and I see no reason why not as the land has been used exclusively for open leisure for well over 20 years – then they won’t be allowed to touch it.