A vital aspect of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships, as well as the home of a successful Athletics Club and one of London’s largest lakes, Wimbledon Park is currently a subject of much debate in the local community due to the condition it has been left in over the last few months. Residents have criticised Merton Council for not doing enough to maintain the public space, instead seemingly profiting from it by bringing in private companies to run amusement attractions, such as the recent ‘Big Top’ installation. These fairs are often overpriced and underused but with local councils' funding worse than ever, is Merton Council right to utilise its resources as a means of raising finance?

One argument against using the park for profit is the impact it has on regular users of its facilities. It’s most recent attraction, the Big Top only functioned for 3 weeks, from December to early January, but the consequences of it have been felt for almost 4 months altogether, with a large proportion of the field fenced off and now rendered useless following the 20-metre-tall tent’s dismantlement. This has had adverse effects in addition to the obvious eyesore for park users; the Junior Park Run has been forced to change it’s route so it can avoid the fenced-off area and dog walkers are forced to exercise their pets in a much smaller space. So is the long-term hassle caused to the members of the local community worth the small profit made from only three weeks?

Merton Council would argue that any opportunity to raise finance to reinvest into the Borough is worth it. Over the last eight years, local councils have only been given 40% of the money initially promised to them by the government, and this year it is predicted that 47% of councils wont receive any funding, and will instead have to help to finance the Government, reversing the usual relationship. Furthermore, the Council is only raising money so as to invest it back into the community. Wimbledon Park, itself, offers tennis, beach volleyball and crazy golf facilities which need maintaining, as well as the general upkeep of the rest of the park, all so it can be enjoyed by the local community. The Council is also considering opening up Wimbledon Park Lake for open water swimming in response to the Swimbledon campaign, which has received over 3200 signatures on its petition. This would undoubtedly cost Merton a lot to adequately staff and advertise, in addition to all necessary health and safety tests, showing a will to make investments in acknowledgement of public interest, perhaps justifying their rental of public spaces to private companies.

Ultimately, the local community are right to feel frustrated by how public space is rented out to businesses, given that it often has long term consequences and affects members of the public directly. However, all local councils are now increasingly being forced to find ways to raise finance as Government investment continues to decrease, so Merton’s use of the Park is, in many ways, justified.

By Alex Buchanan, Wilson’s School