Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Formula E - Speech to Full Council, 9 December 2015

For those who are interested in the speech I made during the debate on Formula E at the recent meeting of Wandsworth Borough Council here it is in full:

I hope Cllr Cousins and Cllr Jones are listening as they sometimes miss what I say… 
If so I’m pleased because at the meeting last month when we agreed that Formula E should return to Battersea Park we listened gratefully to Cllr Cousins as he praised the Council for its imagination and creativity in attracting events such as Formula E to the Borough, but also to the objections of the petitioners he represented. 
We listened carefully to the five deputations as they articulated their concerns. 
We listened to Professor Ekins agree with me that Formula E was about reducing future carbon emissions and couldn’t be carbon neutral itself.  We listened as he expressed support for Formula E, but not if it took place in his local park. 
We listened sympathetically to park users, including the old, infirm, vulnerable or blind, as they explained how disruption to the park affects their lives. 
We listened to Officers and Enable explain under questioning from both sides how disruption can be limited and difficulties can be mitigated. 
We listened as Officers set out the financial implications to the Borough of not continuing the event. 
We listened to the list of benefits the Park could enjoy with £200,000 a year of Formula E funding. 
We listened to Labour councillors explain their change of heart. 
We listened to protesters heckling. 
And finally we listened to people telling us we weren’t listening! 
But let’s be clear: Listening to something is not the same as agreeing with it.  But we did agree on so many things: 
We agreed that damage to the Park should be avoided or repaired quickly when unavoidable.  We agreed that closure of the Park should be minimised over the set up and clear up stages; that signage needs to be better; that health and safety is a priority; that noise should be reduced; and that helicopters shouldn’t be hovering around the neighbourhood on race weekend.
We also agreed that regrettably for some, hosting the event simply would never be acceptable. 
It is all a far cry from the decision over a year ago when Labour and Conservative councillors agreed to host Formula E.  Or is it?  What has changed? 
We all knew some local residents didn’t want it to take place.  They still don’t. 
We all knew that there may be problems with hosting the event.  There were problems and they need to be dealt with. 
We all knew the potential revenue for the Borough and the Park.  This has been realised and is set to continue. 
We all hoped that this would be a popular event, with an excellent atmosphere.  And so it proved with nearly 60,000 spectators, thousands from within the Borough. 
When the decision was made in 2014, right up to aftermath of the races, Labour Councillors tweeted enthusiastically about the event: 
Cllr Anderson said it was a great opportunity. 
Cllr Jones welcomed the advance of green technology. 
Cllr Carpenter encouraged locals to enter ballots for tickets. 
And Cllr McKinney celebrated the victory of a racer from Roehampton. 
At the meeting last month Cllr Speck spoke movingly about the residents she had spoken to who enjoyed it, who wouldn’t normally get the opportunity to attend a world class sporting event on their doorstep at such a low price.  She spoke of the fact that these people can’t organise into an effective lobby and their voices aren’t easily heard. 
Only one thing has changed since we agreed Formula E.  A significant protest has been mounted by angry residents and Councillors have faced a powerful campaign of very articulate objections. 
Conservative Councillors have withstood this barrage, whilst Labour has neatly stepped to one side. 
Was it cowardice or calculation? 
Labour Councillors described the report into Formula E as “Damning”.  However one of the deputations described it as “Biased”.  My view is that the report was thorough.  It covered every expressed objection, it quantified the problems and it offered solutions.  It cannot reasonably form the basis of Labour’s change of heart. 
Labour Councillors have also failed to address the consequences of a decision to pull out.  We all had the gold papers with the financial implications of not going ahead.  We all know that the Borough needs to make savings.  Labour Councillors didn’t even consider this.  They offered no suggestions how the Council can meet this shortfall.  They made no suggestions of where they would make the savings necessary without this revenue.  They didn’t seem to grasp that this wasn’t a revenue neutral decision. 
I’m sorry to make that partisan point.  This was not a partisan matter until Labour withdrew its support.  It would have been great if the positive manner in which the original decision was made had continued.  We would welcome Labour’s suggestions on addressing resident’s concerns.  The party of the community could have made suggestions such as arranging volunteers to take vulnerable people to one of our other parks on the days Battersea is closed.  Organising dog walkers to band together and find alternative routes.  Or offering to guide people to the parts of the Park that remain open, such as the blind gentleman who spoke to us. 
Formula E could be a great community event but Labour has chosen not to be involved.  Instead they are telling residents in other parts of the Borough that they wish to cut services important to them in order to subsidise Battersea Park and keep it clear for the lucky few who live nearby. 
I find that a terrible shame.

Update: Now available on YouTube here.

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