Have we really got to pick a pocket or two….?

Have we really got to pick a pocket or two….?

The city of London is “Sui generis”,  of its own kind or unique. Spanning the centuries and tests of time the Corporation is certainly special and part of the very fabric of London. It enjoys and benefits from this unique status and cherishes its ancient traditions, intriguing customs and mysterious guilds. It relies heavily on goodwill and the dedication of many people at different levels of the organisation but also on the support of the public.

when it comes to Epping Forest I think everyone understands the roll the City played in saving the forest and purchasing it to keep it in perpetuity for “the people”. Over the years the famous dedication by Queen Victoria has been systematically downplayed yet the fact remains that the dedication was in essence the real spirit of the act. If you read the act and surrounding documentation  it is quite clear what the intentions were and how they were portrayed to Parliament and the crown. The City of London agreed to bear all costs of running the forest on our behalf, indeed some taxes were levied to enable the purchase as well as substantial donations so it wasn’t entirely out of their pockets.

The trust that was placed on the City of London was great enough for the Queen to dedicate it to us and she had faith that the City would honour her words for all time, the faith the people placed onthe City to shoulder the burden was well founded at the time given the visionary moves by the City towards saving spaces such as Epping forest, Hampstead Heath and so on. The management of the forest was strictly denoted within the act and the rights and liberties of the people established. Subsequent amendments have somewhat eroded these rights and moved the perception of the City from the saviour to the controller. Many times the attitude of “it’s our land” comes to the forefront with little regard to the fact that they are the conservators and keepers not for the City itself but for us collectively. They were allowed to purchase it on the basis it was to be “the people’s forest”

Some specific obligations mentioned in the act have been forgotten or their import downplayed and somewhat ignored. The ancient Iron Age earthworks at Loughton Camps and Amesbury Banks are specifically listed to be protected and preserved yet that obligation cannot and has not been totally fulfilled so it is downplayed and dismissed. The relevance of this point is that we are now being offered a solution to some cycling issues of extending the same restrictions applied to the earthworks to other popular areas of the forest when it is blatantly obvious that the dramatic erosion in recent years of the Iron Age earthworks has been allowed to continue unhindered and that the strategy applied to the legal obligation of protection has failed yet even though it is widely understood that the obligation can’t be fulfilled and the strategy of protection has failed it is somehow deemed feasible that extending the same restrictions elsewhere will have a desirable result.

Repeating ineffective policies is futile and a waste of resources.

Resources are the key issue at the moment. However that should not be a concern for the general public when it comes down to Epping Forest as the agreement was made that the City of London would bear all costs in the management of the forest. It was a key component of the deal. Over the decades the vision of what the forest should look like has become a corporate issue and vision, forest management is now one of budgets and funds and corporate branding, Incorrectly the forest has had to fall in line with other open spaces as the City has slowly tried to negate its original responsibility and agreements and bring all its open space assets under one management roof.

inconveniently in many respects the old act has hindered the corporate vision and realisation of income from the asset. Many times small amendments have been made to the act in favour of the City but each time the people have lost part of the protection of their rights to our asset, similar to the ancient Iron Age earth works the erosion accelerates, slows down and then picks up pace Once again yet is headed in one direction: the loss of an asset or rights.

Some five or six years ago the move was made to realise income from the forest which is contrary to the spirit of the act by changing the enforcement abilities to enable car parking enforcement along with other fixed penalty abilities. The Epping Forest Forum campaigned against this and it was agreed that the ability to charge fixed penalty notices for parking would be dropped along with the car parking scheme proposals.

Meetings were held with the Director of Open spaces at the time and agreements made. Meetings were held with the Remembrancers and the act amendments were agreed and altered to confirm that with regards to civil parking enforcement the Corporation is not a civil enforcement authority in relation to open spaces. It could be deemed that if a right does not exist then neither can it be subcontracted. Have fixed penalty charges been administered for parking offences?

The results of those agreements were to not continue opposing the proposals. To continue in pursuing them means the agreements are no longer honoured in that respect. The trust placed in the agreements is lost. The City of London wishes to pursue parking charges for income generation purposes, to contribute towards the costs of running costs of the forest, this is contrary to the initial obligations of the act which initially was at “no cost” to the general public, slowly altered to “little cost” to the general public  and now moving towards “at cost to the general public” and within the same timeframe a further proposal to reduce consultation obligations.

consult less and charge more.

we have seen the recent moves by the City of London to engage more with local Highway initiatives, namely the red lines in High Beech and we now have proposed gates to close off the Centre of High Beech that conveniently  fit perfectly with the parking charge initiative. However once again the acts that govern are ignored insofar as it’s clearly stipulated in the 2018 Open spaces amendments in exercising their rights to enter into agreements with Highways authorities and traffic schemes that they must have regard to the amenity of the open space and the interests of the persons resorting to it and the interests of the inhabitants of the locality of the open space and other persons using the Highways in that locality.

No consultation was given with regards to the red lines and there has been a misleading element of how exactly the public would be able to have a say under the temporary order. It turns out they don’t have a consultation period under the type of order used. Fairmead Road has been closed after years of wrangling but High Beech has had gates conveniently agreed with delivery due within a few months. Fairmead apparently can not be opened up as a temporary overspill car park to alleviate real problems supposedly because of having gates across a public highway causes a problem yet High Beech can be opened and closed daily. The problems of getting Fairmead Road closed with all the anti-social behaviour took forever yet add the revenue potential with the conveniently created car parks and bingo, gates appear to be and easy option.

The revenue gained by parking charges would be considerable one would expect yet it is obvious that whatever revenue gets generated by parking charges and the subsequent enforcement fines would surely be deducted from the budget that the City currently gives towards the forest? The City has set out its visions of how it wants the forest branded and developed many costly vanity policies that now need to be funded for sustainability and that funding seems to now be partly met by the people.

so the agreement and spirit of the act is likely to be broken and the general impression that the current proposals could lead one to conclude that the real ethos is:

You pay us money and we consult you less so we don’t have to justify what we are doing with that money. We will pretend we are a local authority when we want to regulate the roads for our income generation projects and carefully manipulate each proposal to correspond with future income plans but when it comes down to liability and responsibility we will resort back to none of it having anything to do with us so you must contact the council/police/highways or anyone else but us as we have no money but when it suits and we want to raise funding for projects that we will say we are delivering for your benefit we will roll out the Epping Forest act, dust it off and make sure everyone thinks we are respecting the obligation we made.

At a time where the nation is on its knees and people are struggling in every aspect of life, the value of green spaces and their accessibility is paramount it is the wrong time to be levying charges for something that has been historically agreed and accepted as a right of the people to use at no cost.

It is an alienation of the beneficiaries of the charity and the act. Charges will affect the very people that rely on and use the forest the most. It will not guarantee continuity of services and not guarantee that jobs within the forest departments remain safe it will only reduce the financial burden on the City of London for maintenance of the forest on our behalf, something they promised to do to the Queen and Parliament.