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Public money ‘wasted’ on Highbury Fields revamp saga

After council’s Bandstand axe error, how proposals have dragged on for a decade

02 August, 2019 — By Calum Fraser

Sam Parrington and Lorraine Bywater at the Bandstand on Highbury Fields

THE Town Hall stands accused of “wasting” public money on a project which has dragged on for more than a decade without a brick being laid.

Islington has spent almost £60,000 consulting on plans to regenerate the Highbury Fields Bandstand, café and Keeper’s Hut, the Tribune can reveal.

Sam Parrington and Lorraine Bywater, who run the popular One O’Clock Club for under-fives at the Bandstand, were left in shock last week when they were told that their building would be condemned, putting their livelihoods on a knife-edge.

The council this week attempted to make amends by sending a letter to the Tribune and contacting infuriated councillors and apologising to the club for what it said had been a “miscommunication”.

Instead, a “new survey” is set to be conducted on the site, as the council do not have the funds to follow through with their plans.

It follows a consultation launched in 2018 with six possible options including full demolition of the existing buildings.

Kate Pothalingam, a co-founder of Friends of Highbury Fields, said a new survey was unnecessary as several had already been done.

She said that it was widely known from the start that an extensive regeneration scheme involving demolition and new buildings would be too expensive.

“What a waste of section 106 money. If only the council had listened to park users, this money could have been saved and spent instead on the refurbishment of the buildings including the Bandstand,” she said.

Highbury East councillor Caroline Russell, from the Green Party, added: “This saga is ridiculous, it has been desperately mismanaged. We have had condition surveys done, they ought to have all of that already.”

She said the council’s “miscommunication” can “only have arisen from conversations that are genuinely happening”.

The first regeneration proposals were put forward by the previous Liberal Democrat administration back in 2007.

But no funding was put in place to implement them, according to environment chief Claudia Webbe.

So the plans were scrapped and a new project was launched in 2016.

As the Tribune reported the following year, Islington slashed £12,500 from the £19,500 funding they previously put into the Bandstand.

Cllr Webbe said: “Since the consultation in 2018, continued central government cuts to the council and a lack of external funding streams have meant that, unfortunately, the council has had to review the scope of the project in order to identify if improvements to the facilities can be made within the budget available.”

She added: “No decisions have been made at this stage.

“We will be contacting those people who responded to the consultation and local stakeholders in the autumn about options for the future.

“The project costs to date are entirely in line with a scheme like this.

“I disagree that investing money in good quality design and consultation is a waste of money, as I think most local residents will agree.”

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