Thursday, 13 December 2012

Hammersmith Park: secrecy costs row

Hammersmith Park
A private company is about to charge up to £91 an hour for use of football pitches that are currently free – and make a profit of over £400,000 a year under a deal with our Council. Private firm PlayFootball have beeen offered a 35-year lease for a third of Hammersmith Park, 

Andy Slaughter MP has described it as a licence to print money, pointing out that it also gets the Council a £70,000 a year windfall, but means residents lose their park which will be converted to commercial pitches, a car park, and a late opening restaurant/bar which they fear will attract anti-social behaviour

Mr Slaughter had been asking the council and the firm involved to publish the terms of the deal. But he says he was stonewalled until recently when he was given a set of papers with all the figures redacted. Not much use - until one of his staff spotted that they hadn't been redacted properly and was able to reveal the figures under the wodges of “ink” covering them. Oops.

So the following “hidden” information was revealed recently to White City Residents at a meeting of their Neighbourhood Forum:
  • PlayFootball will make over £400,000 pa net profit, almost half the total income from the scheme and a 20% return on investment, i.e. they will recoup their investment within five years.
  • They will do this by charging £91 an hour for 7 aside and £68 an hour for five aside pitches in one of the least well-off communities in London.
  • Apart from two free pitches all the rest (12 altogether) will be let out commercially, so a car park for over 60 cars will be built on the park for users travelling into the area.
  • The council will get £70,000 a year from the deal, residents will get a derisory one off payment of £5,000 for alternative pitches during development. There will also be £75,000 supposedly to invest in the rest of the park but £25,000 of this has already been spent by the council on helping SERCO move one of its depot buildings
Slaughter said:
“When I turned up at the White City Neighbourhood Forum and told them all this, Play Football, the firm involved were quite relaxed about me uncovering the figures they had redacted them - surprise, surprise - at the council's request.

Artists impression: New
“I can only conclude that the council felt ashamed that they were selling off a public park, much-loved by the local community and making them pay to use parts of it that weren’t being turned into a car park. Why else would they want to keep these figures "commercially confidential" when the firm they were doing business with was happy to have them in the public domain?”
But speaking yesterday and defending the scheme Cllr Greg Smith, deputy leader of the Council, argued:
"This is an absolutely fantastic deal for Shepherds Bush and White City residents, unparalleled anywhere else in the country.

“The council has secured £2 million to be spent in Hammersmith Park at zero cost to the taxpayer with two dedicated free pitches for the local community.

“Residents have been asking us to upgrade the obsolete all-weather pitch for several years and feedback about the new scheme has been overwhelmingly positive.

“Even in these tough economic times, we are proving that it is possible to improve services for residents through innovative ways of working.”
I drive past that park most days and these pictures illustrate just how needed this investment is. But the sort of secrecy about the choices this council is making to meet that need is far from helpful, least of all to them because it leaves them vulnerable to this sort of criticism. What's wrong with asking residents not just about the problems but the solutions to meet them? Now that would be innovative.


  1. i kinda thought we paid our council tax so we could have free facilities like this in the borough - you know keeping the kids off the streets, involved in sports rather than drugs n crime and all that good stuff. i'd be interested to know just how many local residents will be able to afford to use the new facilities. greg smith is just spinning another corporate sell off. boo hiss on the council again.


  2. Every time I've walked past the pitches are always filled with kids playing football - can these young lads really afford £70 for an hour of footie?

  3. In fairness two of the pitches will be free to use, but it does reduce the numbers able to use them without charge of course.

  4. I have to disagree with Anita, I don't think the point of council tax is try and provide unlimited free facilities.
    There are a number of parks in the borough which provide sport facilities. If an excuse to get involved with drugs and anti social behavior is not having sports facilities right next to your house, then that is just being lazy.

    I think the main issue with this scheme is not enough is being given in return for the lease of the park, and that too much of the park is being used for it.
    In addition the tennis facilities are not being replaced within the park, which along with the tennis courts in the green being removed, significantly reduces the number of free tennis courts available in the borough.