Camden Council has announced that it will appoint landscape architects next year to redesign Crabtree Fields public open space — a decision that will likely see the destruction of much of the park’s greenery and habitat for wildlife.
At a meeting in July with police and parks officers to address concerns about the behaviour of some park users and the lack of park maintenance, residents were told that there is no money to step up police and warden patrols or improve cleaning and garden maintenance at the park.
Residents had complained that the park is filthy, some park users were abusive, threatening and playing loud music; and that hedges were not trimmed during the winter, with most of the garden maintenance left to a handful of volunteers to deal with.
Camden parks department had also removed most of the children’s play equipment in October 2021 and was dragging its feet on replacing it leaving local children with only two swings for recreation.
But instead of addressing the concerns raised, parks officers presented residents with an agenda-setting take-it-or-leave-it choice with the only option on the table being a redesign of the park.
Increased maintenance and patrols of the park would only cost a matter of additional thousands of pounds to be spent every year. But implementing a new design would likely run into hundreds of thousands of pounds if it follows what happened at nearby Whitfield Gardens.
Currently Crabtree Fields park has a variety of small birds — robins, blackbirds, starlings, wrens, tits, and finches — nesting and feeding on insects every year while common pipistrelle bats can be seen flying overhead at dusk in the warmer months.
It is the most biodiverse public open space in the neighbourhood and the work done by the volunteer gardeners to plant native trees and wildflowers accords with Camden Council’s promise to support nature in the borough.
As part of its declaration of a global Ecological Emergency, the council committed to “…produce a new ecological plan for Camden to sustain and improve biodiversity in Camden…” and to encourage “…all citizens, businesses, and organisations or groups in the borough of Camden to join with the Council to…protect and improve biodiversity, in order to avert impending catastrophe.”
If greenery is severely cut back in a redesign of Crabtree Fields, Camden would be reneging on that promise of protecting wildlife habitat.
At a meeting of park users earlier this month opinions differed greatly on how the park should look. Many favoured improving greenery, biodiversity and wildflowers and wanted the council to increase maintenance; some wanted a more formal garden neatly laid out; while a significant number of local residents desired a less shady and more sparsely planted total redesign of the park in the belief that it would stem the abuse and nuisance from some of the public.
Notices have now been put up in the park stating that “Camden Council has secured funding to look at ways of making Crabtree Fields a greener (sic) and more vibrant space for everyone to enjoy”.
Fitzrovia News understands that what is being favoured by Camden is a design more in keeping with Whitfield Gardens and Alfred Place Gardens, which are relative deserts compared with the greenery, wildlife habitat, shade and biodiversity of Crabtree Fields but which have “secure by design” elements.
Park visitors are invited to sign up for updates on the council’s online engagement platform to help shape the design of the park.
Consultation on the design principles will take place this autumn with landscape architects due to be selected and appointed in January 2024.
Update, 16 September 2023. Since we published this article information emerged that Camden Parks department had been working for some time — perhaps a year or more — on plans to redesign Crabtree Fields. We now understand that the planned “improvement” project is not a reaction to the impact of recent anti social behaviour, but part of Camden’s “Green Space Improvement Programme”. The recent events and meetings between residents, the police, and parks officers was just coincidental to the long-term plans Camden has been developing for some time. This perhaps explains why the children’s play equipment — which was removed in October 2021 — has not been replaced and no draft designs have been made public.