Speech to Wandsworth Council by councillor Rachael Stokes, December 9 2015
From my perspective, this debate goes beyond the issue of electric cars racing around a Grade II listed park.
It goes beyond the heritage impact assessment report which concluded that “it is unacceptable to restrict use of and access to the park over a three week period” – and beyond the safety assessment which acknowledged that there was a “steep learning curve”.
It even goes beyond the question of whether it is appropriate for a council in the 21st Century to be associated with a so-called family event which uses bikini clad ‘grid girls’.
For me, this has become an issue about local democracy and people’s faith in the members elected to represent them.
At last month’s committee meeting, the question of whether to invoke the break clause was presented a decision that involved weighing up the disruption caused by the event against the financial benefits and role of the borough in promoting green technology.
On the financial benefits, well we can’t really assess this as the revenue received by the council is subject to commercial confidentiality. We have no clear commitments as to how the money will be spent and in terms of the wider impact on the local economy, the only evidence we have is anecdotal.
As for the promotion of green technology, the assertions here appear to be tenuous at best and a complete falsehood at worst. Even council officers conclude that it cannot be called a green event.
It perhaps little wonder then that residents overwhelmingly sided with the view that the costs far exceeded the benefits.
So let’s review local opposition to the event in numbers:
- 400 residents wrote directly to the council to complain about the event
- 550 contributed to Facebook page
- Nearly 3000 residents signed a local petition set up by Save Battersea Park
- A Wandsworth Guardian poll showed 86% of reader responses opposed to Formula E’s return
- And of 1366 respondents to council’s own consultation, 62% opposed formula E return.
The committee report was succinct in its conclusion that “A clear majority of respondents do not want to see formula E as an annual event in the park.”
If this was not compelling enough, council officers estimate that 150 residents came to observe the decision made by the Community Services committee meeting last month. This was an unprecedented situation where observers had to sit in two overspill rooms, including this very chamber. All five of the excellent deputations made at the meeting by local resident associations and community groups were opposed to Formula E’s return.
There is very little doubt that the decision to allow Formula E to return is at odds with public opinion.
This leads Jan Littlewood, a member of the Battersea Park Action Group, to reach the following conclusion, “Democratically speaking, every local interest group and a clear majority in every poll and consultation has proven to be against the event returning to the park. If formula E gets voted through….we will need to start asking serious questions about the leadership structure and democratic integrity of Wandsworth Council.”
Councils consult with their residents for a reason. They receive petitions for a reason. They invite deputations for a reason. That reason is very simple: to listen and respond to what people have to say.
It is time we listened to Wandsworth residents and take action to stop the return of Formula E.