by East London Socialist Party members
On 28 March, over 100 people attended a Zoom public meeting called by the ‘Trees not Towers’ campaign. Strong objections were made against the City of London Corporation’s plans to sell the former nursery part of West Ham Park.
Parks are essential in Newham, which has high levels of inequality, poverty and pollution and one of the lowest rates of people-to-green-space ratios in the country. Nearly 13% of children in Newham aged between four and five, and nearly 30% aged 10 to 11, were classified as obese, ten years ago.
West Ham Park’s 77 acres is a ‘green oasis” in east London and is used extensively by local people. During the Covid pandemic, the number of people visiting the park doubled.
Chair of a local housing co-op and Socialist Party member, Niall Mulholland, spoke at the public meeting about how he often brought his children to the park when they were growing up, and how he now takes part in organised Sunday runs there.
The City of London shut down the nursery several years ago, claiming that it was no longer economically viable. Yet this area could be either reopened as a functioning plant nursery, run by the community, or used to expand the public park.
The City of London argues that the reasons for the development are to “increase income” for the park and to provide new housing. While Newham has a desperate housing crisis, new buildings should not be erected at the expense of losing a precious part of a park that is Grade 2 listed by Historic England.
No one at the public meeting had any confidence that the housing would be genuinely affordable. A mass council house building programme is needed in the borough to create affordable and quality housing without building on public parks.
The meeting agreed to appeal to local residents to send letters expressing opposition to the plans to the property company, Savills, which has been appointed by the City of London to act on its behalf.
Niall argued that it is essential to combine letter writing and lobbying with a high-profile campaign on the streets. By involving local trade unions and community organisations, mass opposition can stop the City of London’s destructive plans.
Lois Austin, Trade Union and Socialist Coalition candidate for mayor in Newham, also supports this approach. But what about the Newham Labour-run council? Two of their councillors sit on the West Ham Park Committee.