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Town Hall spent £400k on Barnard Park revamp

Campaigners fighting to keep a full-sized football pitch criticise Town Hall over payments to consultants, architects and surveyors

11 August, 2017 — By Emily Finch

An illustration of how the new Barnard Park could look

NEARLY half-a-million pounds has secretly been spent by the Town Hall on consultants, architects and surveyors for the controversial Barnard Park revamp, campaigners have discovered.

Groups fighting to keep a full-sized football pitch in the park in Barnsbury have hit out after it was revealed that the council has paid out £419,339 over nine years – before works have even started. The details, obtained by campaigners under Freedom of Information legislation, revealed Islington Council paid out more than £150,000 to four architectural firms.

The proposals, approved by planning chiefs in May, would see the current 11-a-side pitch, which is in a poor state, replaced by a floodlit 7-a-side artificial pitch, allowing for new paths, grassy areas, picnic tables and a barbecue area. The council has secured £850,000 for changes at the park.

Commenting on the amount spent by the Town Hall, campaigner Mark Ransford, whose children play on the pitch, said: “It feels like an extraordinary amount of money. The project’s got nowhere. It’s the same amount of money to refurbish the entire sports pitch.”

Stephen Griffiths, a senior youth worker at Copenhagen Youth Project, added: “It’s crazy, but it’s usual and unfortunate. I see it in a number of different areas where a lot of money is spent on consultation which is quite wasteful. The consultation hasn’t been done very well.”

The Friends of Barnard Park have backed the plans but the Copenhagen Youth Project, the Football Association (FA) and Arsenal in the Community oppose them.

Government body Sport England also objected to the plans, so the final decision lies with the Culture Secretary, Karen Bradley, who has yet to rule on the matter.

Campaigners said they received a “verbal commitment” on Wednesday from a Barnsbury ward councillor to look into organising a meeting with council chiefs to retain a 9-a-side football pitch at the park. Mr Ransford said the commitment came about during a “positive” meeting at the Town Hall which included four other football cam­paigners and Barnsbury ward councillors Rowena Champion and Mouna Hamitouche.

“They [the council] may be willing to accept a compromise. They feel a compromise would be better than an upset,” said Mr Ransford.

“A 9-a-side pitch works for the kids at Highbury Football School, whereas the current proposal for a 7-a-side does not.”

He said it was Cllr Champion who gave the commitment. Cllr Hamitouche declined to comment and Cllr Champion did not respond to requests for comment yesterday.

The Tribune understands the FA’s regional body for London are in the early stages of deciding if they would fund a new football pitch in Barnard Park.

The Town Hall distanced themselves from any such commitment yesterday (Thursday). A spokesman said: “This could be a case of crossed wires but no commitments were made to review anything in the meeting. In any case, ward councillors do not have the power to make such a commitment on behalf of the council.”

Claudia Webbe, the Town Hall’s environment chief, added: “There were differing views on this local project, so it was important that we heard all views. Following extensive discussion with the community we have developed a plan for Barnard Park that we hope will work for everyone.”


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