Tuesday 19th May 2020

Dear Cllr. Hilary Gander and Cllr. Andreas Kirsch,

We are writing to you in your respective capacities as Kingston Council’s Portfolio Holder for Environment and Sustainable Transport and Portfolio Holder for Community and Governance.

It has become all too apparent during the Covid-19 pandemic and the consequent lockdown how important our parks, green spaces and open land in general are to our community.

 With people up until this week allowed out for exercise for only up to an hour a day, and from now on for two periods per day according to the latest guidelines set out by the government, those areas have been crucial to the health and wellbeing of most of the population.

Though we are generally well served for parks and green spaces in the borough of Kingston, and it is understandable that children’s playgrounds as well as outdoor exercise/gym areas have been closed during the Coronavirus crisis, it has been nevertheless only too clear how vital the equipping, maintenance and staffing when necessary of these areas are.

The Labour Party notes that in the Council’s Green Spaces Strategy, there is a commitment from the Council to ‘focus different parks towards different uses; protect and enhance our green spaces; give residents and visitors the best facilities possible, and encourage greater community and voluntary support.”

You also state in the strategy document that Community engagement is at the heart of the programme, that ‘community-led initiatives’ and working with key partner organisations’ are key to the development and upkeep of green areas.

The revitalisation of the Fishponds park in Surbiton was a particularly good example of this co-operation. Indeed, had it not been for community efforts, damage caused by poor maintenance of the site may not have been able to be rectified.

The Grounds Management Association (GMA) this week issued a warning that the poor maintenance of local grass pitches is putting the survival of sport in the community at risk.

The GMA this week revealed that junior participation levels in rugby, football and cricket could increase by almost 1.4 million (1,376,252) children every week, with the right investment, guidance and care – and a massive 4 million more children’s football matches could be played on existing pitches every year – if those pitches were well maintained.

The research found that pitches play an important role in our communities – 57% of adults think playing local team sports is a fundamental national pastime.

A quarter of British children aged 7-18 think playing team sports locally is good for their communities – and 64% want more grass pitches in their area.

The Office for National Statistics revealed this week that 1 in 8 British households has no access to a private garden – which makes public green space even more important.

In addition, statistics show that one in three UK adults are clinically obese, one of the highest rates in the World, with obesity a risk factor for other health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. The NHS revealed on 14 May that a quarter of Coronavirus deaths in hospitals had diabetes. As we emerge from the pandemic it will be important to encourage the populous to lead much healthier lifestyles.

We are all aware that Council budgets are likely to be hit once the Covid-19 crisis is over – whenever that is. But this period has surely shown how important exercise and open space/green space is to public physical and mental wellbeing.

Once all our open spaces/recreation grounds/sports pitches are back up and running, can Kingston Council guarantee that upkeep and equipping of these areas will be maintained – and even improved, with the almost certain greater usage they will now see? Especially with regards to grass cutting, maintenance of paths, drainage (of sports pitches in particular), and equipment?

Yours sincerely,

Kingston & Surbiton Labour Party                                         Richmond Park Labour Party

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