The Copers Cope Area Residents Association recently attended a focus group for the proposals to change Beckenham Place Park. Whilst we appreciate the opportunity to get involved we are hugely disappointed that this is the first proper consultation on this project that started 2 years ago. Lewisham council submitted plans for the park and received inimical funding back in July 2014 with no local consultation in Beckenham.
The focus group was good meeting where local community groups got the opportunity to pass on the view of local people. The report from the meeting is below.
A series of five discussion groups were held between 4th and 11th February 2016. Consultants CFP facilitated the sessions with support from Lewisham Council regeneration team members.
The discussion groups were attended by a total of 39 people.
This report is a short summary of the overall discussion across the five sessions.
2 Summary of Discussion
2.1 Awareness of Beckenham Place Park
There was a clear message that marketing & promotion of Beckenham Place Park and its offer was currently poor, both online and through other means. Addressing this shortfall was perceived to be relatively straightforward and should be a priority. This view was shared by existing users, golfers and less frequent visitors. There were comments that ‘Beckenham Place Park was one of the best kept secrets’ in SE London.
Many participants, particularly those that visit the park less frequently, suggested that the park is perceived to be ‘a private space’. This perception is underpinned by poor signage and unwelcoming entrances, impermeable boundaries and the relative dominance of the golf course.
Access from the east is very important for many people. Those accessing the park from the east typically considered access to be reasonable and thought that golf impacted less on the landscape and placed fewer restrictions on their movement around the park.
There were a number of suggestions that the park should be more visible and that improvements should be made to the Beckenham Hill boundary.
2.2 Character of the Park
Most participants agreed that the park is valued because of its open space, woodland and as a place to escape the surrounding urban development offering respite from the daily pressures of urban living. These qualities give Beckenham Place Park its special character and strong feelings were expressed that these characteristics should be preserved.
Access into the park is perceived to be generally good with a number of entrances at regular intervals linking to residential areas and public transport points. The entrances were typically felt to be relatively unwelcoming and that this had consistently been identified through previous surveys. Poor signage was also regularly mentioned.
Public transport, with 2 railway stations in close proximity to the park, was considered to be good. Navigation from Beckenham Hill Station could be improved and there was a suggestion that temporary signage could be used to encourage new visitors and build confidence. The Green Chain links were also considered a strength.
The proposals to create a better path network with circular routes was supported in principle by the majority of respondents. However, some existing users and golfers felt this could be achieved by working around the golf course.
There was some concern over the details of the path proposals and suggestions that materials used should be sympathetic and in keeping with the character of the park, particularly in the less formal areas. The self-binding gravel materials used for the eastern path following the Ravensbourne elicited some positive comments. Improved disabled / inclusive access was widely supported.
Improved access for cyclists was generally supported although some participants raised concerns over shared access paths with respect to potential user conflicts.
There was a general consensus that further vehicular access points into the park were not required. Some Beckenham residents living very close to the park had strong opinions about any further vehicle access into (and out of) the park from the south, even for limited periods only. These concerns derive from the issue of unadopted highways maintained by residents and also increased traffic and associated disturbance.
At one discussion group there was a suggestion for a further railway crossing point (bridge) for pedestrians, which would aid circulation and connect the common to the woodland.
There was support for interpretative materials at the Homesteads and in other key areas of the park. There was a strong preference for the interpretive materials to cover the wider local history and heritage, setting the park in a wider context.
There were also high levels of support for way marked trails to encourage exploration.
There was universal support for the restoration of the buildings within the park, particularly the Mansion, Homesteads & associated buildings and the Gardeners Cottage. Future uses of the Foxgrove Club were more mixed. These was support for the re-use of the building but Beckenham residents in particular raised some concerns over the types of use and any vehicular access requirements.
Many respondents appeared to recognise the need to restore and conserve the Mansion and considered this to be the highest priority within the park. There was a strong preference for use of the Mansion, which would allow greater public access. Weddings and private hire uses were supported if this would help derive income to sustain the building. Use of the Mansion as restaurant and training venue for catering and the hospitality industry received some support. Other suggestions included using the building as a museum or art gallery.
The proposals for the Homesteads and suggested functions of cafe, toilets & educational use were well supported. Arts and craft based activities within the curtilage of the Homesteads was supported as were small scale fairs and similar events.
Conversion of the Gardeners Cottage for use as a volunteer base was well supported and the development of volunteer programmes was welcomed.
The Lodges were considered to be visually significant buildings and there were some creative solutions offered to illuminate these to signify the entrances and raise awareness of the park.
2.6 General landscape
Support for the landscape proposals was more mixed, with many more frequent users and golfers opposing any plans that would impact upon the golf course. The Mayor of Lewisham was due to take a decision on the golf course a few days after the last discussion group. The potential closure of the golf course was of great concern to many of the participants and naturally there was some resistance to the landscape proposals that proposed reuse of the land occupied by the golf course.
The current play provision was generally considered to be poor. There was support for introducing more adventurous play provision within the park. The Old Bromley Road entrance and current play location was seen as being an important area for locating key facilities (including refreshments and toilets), providing accessible spaces close to where many people live. There was support for locating any BMX provision in this area. There was also some support for an outdoor gym and trim trail type equipment.
The re-creation of the lake and wetland area was not well supported by many existing users, to a large degree because of the impact on the golf course. Whilst some participants supported the concept, concerns were raised over the technical viability, maintenance requirements and management issues such as those related to Canada Geese. Other people were more positive and thought it would be a positive additional to the landscape, both visually and as a potential facility for water sports and swimming.
Restoration of the walled garden and the use of the space for community food growing was well supported and the space was currently felt to be under-used. Similarly measures to improve the pleasure grounds were well supported. There were some calls for the tennis courts to be retained and upgraded.
Greater use of the park for a range of events and activities was broadly supported. Larger events generated a more mixed reaction with Beckenham residents concerned over the implications of larger events with respect to access (pedestrian and vehicular), noise nuisance and litter. Many Beckenham residents felt the proposed events area was inappropriate and located too close to residential properties. Acoustic events and classical music events were more positively received than those relating to amplified music. Outdoor theatre and cinema were generally well supported. The backdrop of the Mansion was seen as providing a special setting for events.
There appeared to be some concern that over frequency of events with the perception that large-scale events would occur frequently.
2.7 Biodiversity & woodlands
All measures to support biodiversity and sustain the woodlands would appear to be well supported. The woodland and semi-natural character of the park is seen as a major strength and an important characteristic. Measures to restrict desire lines and manage access in the woodlands were requested by some participants.
Some existing users were concerned over the loss of trees on the golf course should this area be restored and some participants placed significant emphasis on the value of the mature silver birch.
Overall the discussion group process provided a useful platform to discuss Beckenham Place Park, current use of the space and to talk about the opportunities for the future. The vast majority of respondents spoke very positively about the semi-natural character of the space and how this should be understood and conserved. Some participants agreed the park is under-used and there was wider acceptance that marketing and promotion is poor.
Proposals to restore and enhance the buildings were widely supported across all participants. The Mansion was seen by many to be the main priority for investment across the park although proposals to restore the Homesteads (and the proposed uses) were typically well supported. The proposals for the landscape restoration were more mixed, which to a large degree, was a result of some participants opposing the closure of the golf course. However, many of the proposals were also widely supported with many participants excited by the opportunities to introduce new facilities and activities.
The discussion groups have also demonstrated that there is a high level of interest in the proposals for the future of Beckenham Place Park and there should be significant interest in the next stages of consultation.