We’re now at the time of year when newspapers and websites begin stuffing their pages with arbitrary end of year lists and features reflecting on the ‘big issues’ of the last twelve months. However, such is the nature of our social media led lives, increasingly short attention spans and reliance on instant Buzzfeed-style news, that what may seem like a very big deal at its time can have faded into absolute obscurity just a few months later. I mean, can you remember what the cause-of-the-day 38 Degrees petition you signed last week was, nevermind one from 11 months ago?
At least, Glasgow City Council certainly seem to be hoping that this is the case with their proposals for new ‘Park Management Rules’ which, if you can draw your mind back to January, arrived in a storm of controversy. The draconian new rules looked set to ban people from gathering in groups of more than 20 in parks, playing or practising “any organised sport”, playing a musical instrument (or any form of amplified music or speech), from partaking in “outdoor education provision”, cycling faster than 5mph, or walking more than three dogs or letting them off the lead, among a multitude of other drastic changes. As we wrote at the time:
These rules are a further attempt to codify the council’s complete mismanagement of our public spaces and our city more generally. As if to hammer home the point, the rules make clear that the council reserve the right to convert any park into a commercial enterprise, should they so desire.
This is an attack on our shared space; an unnecessary “solution” to problems which don’t exist. Our parks are for everyone and that means jugglers and joggers and cocks with four dogs (who’ll have to leave one at home if GCC goes through with this) just as much as it means anyone else, whether I like that or not.
After the proposals became public in mid-January, social media erupted and days of coverage ensued in the local and national media. Even the Daily Mail joined in, fretting about how ‘Rover’ wouldn’t be able to ‘play the time honoured game of fetch’ any more if GCC got their way. In every such story, a council spokesperson was on hand to assure readers that this was merely about ‘simplifying’ existing rules and to urge all interested parties to make submissions to the consultation process. Many did – and 15,000 signed a petition urging the council to rethink the changes. Such was the level of online uproar that the council’s PR chief even took to the pages of the Herald to pen a piece bemoaning the nature of web clicktivism:
This is a genuine consultation. It’s all up for grabs and if you feel strongly about something, and explain why to us, we’ll take it into account… Go on to the council’s website, drop us an email, tell us what you agree with and what you disagree with, and why. I cannot promise we’ll listen if you simply sign a petition on change.org, join a Facebook group or retweet an angry comment.
The consultation closed for submissions on 14 February, with an expectation that its findings would be reported by late April, signed off by June and then presumably implemented with immediate effect, ahead of the Games. New signposts had been drafted as early as December 2013.
So what happened next?
Try googling and you won’t find much – with little to go on since January from the media, the council or even Twitter. And the website for the ‘genuine’ consultation itself, which among other things listed the new rules? A dead link.
We asked the council what was going on, and they did get back to us although with no real explanation for the delay. A spokesperson said: “The consultation on updating and streamlining the parks management rules resulted in almost 15,000 responses. We hosted an event on 15 November with key stakeholders, community representatives and parks user groups. The event allowed for constructive feedback and discussion around the main issues.”
For one thing, this doesn’t really make any sense, as the council’s PR chief explicitly stated in his Herald article that signing “a petition on charge.org” doesn’t count as a consultation response, so it’s strange that they’re now acting as though they’ve spent the last ten months poring through every signatory. Aside from that though, it’s true – they did hold an event on 15 November, which a select group of ‘stakeholder organisations’ were invited to. A Thousand Flowers was recently passed the minutes for this consultation meeting although the only major changes, at present, appear to be:
- The proposed 5mph speed limit for cyclists has been scrapped – and replaced by a 10mph limit
- The 5mph speed limit for vehicles (currently in place) will be upped to 10mph
Consultees at the event were also invited to “consider parks as facilities – if commercial activities are undertaken in a community hall or sports centre, the organiser is expected to pay a rental which contributes to the maintenance of that building. Should this principle be applied in parks?”. It is also noted that the proposed wording of the new rules, which states that the council “reserves the right to levy a charge or charges for the use of any park or any facilities or services provided in any park” remains unchanged. Similarly, there is an extensive section on the right of the council to exempt parks from land access rights “on rare occasions…” (like paid-for events) and the right of council officials to impose parks banning orders for periods “not exceeding one year” on those flouting the management rules.
The consultation event was in a literal sense, a box ticking exercise, with consultees discussing and leaving ticks beside a range of suggestions, although we struggled to take anything meaningful from looking over it. The assumption is that this will then be used to inform whatever document is eventually put before the council’s executive next year. All indications are that little is set to change from the original proposals mooted in January, except from a more realistic speed limit for cyclists and, incredulously, the raising of the speed limit for cars.
It’s hard not to see the delay in concluding the consultation and releasing its findings as anything other than sheer obfuscation by city authorities. Faced with public uproar, the initial plan to fast-track the plans ahead of the Commonwealth Games was conveniently sidelined. Here we are 11 months later, and the council are hoping they can quietly push through whatever changes they like in the new year. The challenge is now to hold them to account – because although GCC have taken it upon themselves to (mis)manage our parks for us, they probably don’t even own them. In all likelihood, the city’s parks are actually Common Good land, which would offer legal protection to them, guarantee access and prevent commercial use. However, the findings of the intern they employed in February to review whether this is the case, after years of pressure, have yet to come to light.
If the plan was to quietly manoeuvre the new rules into place while no one was watching, we hope this acts as a reminder that we are.
Find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AThousandFlowers
Follow us on Twitter @unsavourycabal