I was not party to the now-withdrawn legal action brought by the Battersea Park Action Group to stop Formula E racing so can only speculate on the full contents of the agreement. (In doing so I can’t help but note the irony that one of the big complaints about the council’s handling of Formula E has been the use of ‘confidentiality’ as an excuse not to release details.)

However, it’s hard not to look on this as a major victory for the campaigners.

The public statement in itself is a pretty big win. The park will be reinstated to its previous condition and Formula E will pay costs. In return the protesters will not campaign against the 2016 event. Separately, but with interesting timing, both Formula E and the council announce that this will be Formula E’s last hurrah in Battersea Park.

How much difference the campaign made is anyone’s guess. It may well be that Formula E was looking to go elsewhere, many Formula E fans expressing disappointment appended the observation that Battersea Park was a poor venue. But even if that was the case, it’s clear that opposition to the event was getting far more attention from Formula E than it ever did in the council chamber.

Sometimes though, you don’t need to know the precise cause and effect, you can just celebrate.

I’m not even that sure the news will be taken that badly in the council. It was truly an example of Cllr Cook’s forceful leadership to get Formula E in there but I suspect he will be one of the few genuinely sorry to see it go. Despite the public face of unity in support of Formula E I know many councillors and officers were privately unhappy with the event.

For everyone else, whether their concern was instinctive or came more thoughtfully, it seems like there’s finally good news. Well done to the residents, park users and campaigners who have done so much to make sure Battersea Park can continue to be a vital asset for everyone, every day.

Imagine having organised the largest campaign in recent (and no-so-recent) memory in Wandsworth and, at the end, you attend the relevant council committee: the opportunity for you to have your say. You’ve filled the public gallery, the overspill room is standing room only and, for the first time ever, the public are filling the council chamber to listen to a council meeting. And after the first resident deputation what is the Tory approach?

To accuse the organisers of lying and inflating their support.

I was ashamed by association. Rather than discuss the issues or concerns the first instinct of the majority group on the council was to attack the people.

It got a bit better as the evening progressed, but the writing was already on the wall. There were five excellent deputations, representing local campaigners, residents, the Friends of Battersea Park and the Battersea Society. I also had my say.

When it came to Formula E’s supporters Cllr Cook maintained a Trappist silence throughout the meeting, as did most of the Conservative side. The managing director and team from Enable, the company with the contract to manage Wandsworth’s parks did most of the talking. The council’s finance director, unable to talk about amounts, gave some hypotheticals, if the income was this much, we could pay this many social workers, if this much we could re-surface this many roads… or if it was £350,000 we could pay off one senior officer I saw one person mischievously tweet.

But it was all largely irrelevant. Despite one hint it would be a free vote (the hinter being one of those who stayed silent throughout) the decision had been made behind closed doors long before it got to committee. The Conservatives followed the whip and voted as a block, recommending renewal by seven votes to four.

I know a few of those voting for Formula E had reservations, and one contacted me afterwards to explain their position: “but what can you do?” They asked.

“Well,” I thought, “you could vote against, I did.”

One issue that has troubled me enormously during the build-up to the council’s Formula E decision has been the attitude towards health and safety and risk assessment. Allegations that the construction phase was not done safely have never gone away, and there are plenty of pictures floating around that strongly suggest best practice was not always followed.

In August someone told me they had asked the council about the risk assessments and but was told they were destroyed. This, I thought, had to be a misunderstanding. Aside from not being the sort of document you destroy immediately (I know, for example, that in my day job risk assessments are retained indefinitely, even if they are superseded or become irrelevant) it just didn’t seem much like the council. When I followed up with the council I expected to be able to quickly correct the complainant. In fact I found myself in for months of repeatedly being told the council had absolutely no responsibility for the safety of residents in Battersea Park when it came to Formula E.

Initially I intended to detail the exchanges I had with council officers in trying to get to the bottom of this, but when looking through the email chains decided that it really didn’t make good reading. A simple query that I raised in August took nearly ten weeks to reach its conclusion, the period being filled with lengthy delays for responses from the council, suggestions that other parts of the council were responsible and answers that didn’t really address the questions raised. Having been on the other side of the fence I know there is occasionally a perverse pride taken in not actually answering questions, the Yes, Minister approach. Clearly I’m no longer in a position to appreciate it but the upshot is that I’m still left with a number of questions which remain unanswered.

After ten weeks of trying, I realised I would never get an answer that satisfied me.

I was repeatedly told that risk assessment was entirely Formula E’s responsibility, because, were the council to undertake such assessments, or to approve them in any way, it “potentially renders the council responsible”.

I was, however, assured the council required Formula E to undertake risk assessments as part of the terms and conditions. I did ask if I could see these terms and conditions, but that request was refused because it was “commercially sensitive.” I could not see the risk assessments themselves. The council had, indeed, deleted them and Formula E, for their part, declined to share them again because they felt reinstating the Dropbox link was “an unnecessary administrative burden”.

In summary, the council requires risk assessments, but does not approve them (that being the case, does it even assess their adequacy?) and takes no responsibility for what happened in the park since they merely handed over the park as and when construction started.

There are lots of other issues that were never resolved to my satisfaction. How the council handled potential conflicts of interest when they appeared to use the same health and safety consultants as Formula E had during their planning, for example, was never really addressed nor was a request for details of changes made at the request of the council.

Fundamentally, though, I struggle to understand how the council can so fully hand over its responsibility for the safety of the public. It is for others, be they members of the public or members of the council committee, to decide if that is an appropriate approach.

The council has withdrawn the intended paper on the future of Formula E in Battersea Park. The issue was originally to be discussed at the Community Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 22 September. However, the council has now withdrawn item from the agenda citing the need to properly analyse and consider the responses to the consultation.

I understand that the council has received around 3,000 comments from various sources. I have no idea how they balance between those supportive and those opposed to Formula E but this is a significant level of response for a council consultation and it doesn’t seem all that unlikely they were unable to complete a proper analysis in time for the committee.

I know many people were planning to attend the meeting to watch from the public gallery, and that many more were interested in the outcome. The decision will still have to be made at some stage. The question is when that will be. The next scheduled committee is 24 November, but this will be after the date by which the option to exercise a break clause will have passed.

Since it’s possible the decision may be referred to full council it does raise some interesting timing questions. We’re still not quite at the finish line for Formula E in Battersea Park.

I’m just about old enough to vaguely remember pundits who made a living from Kremlinology and divining some meaning from the scraps of information that escaped Red Square. I was reminded of them watching the public utterances from Wandsworth on Formula E.

The first time I recalled it was seeing a council press release and thinking there must be something to the timings (it was published the day after a Conservative group meeting, but that was five days after Formula E and it described an event that took place a week before). Of course, it’s always preferable to trust the cock-up theory and not the conspiracy theory, but it was fun to speculate on the reasons for that specific timing.

Watching further it’s easy to see how pundits can make a living. I found the following couple of quotes interesting. In autosport.com an interview with Alejandro Agag contains the following:

Formula E has four more years left to run on its contract to use Battersea Park as the venue for the British round, though it does contain an opt-out clause for either party.

Agag expects the venue to remain the same, though it is understood final confirmation will not come until Battersea completes due diligence on last season’s round.

“We’re definitely not executing it [the opt-out clause] and we don’t think they will either,” he said. “We hope they won’t.

“There is a small minority of people who were unhappy and we’re trying to make them happy.”

Meanwhile motorsport.com speculates that Formula E’s desire to change the dates may prove to be an insurmountable problem.

Deputy leader of Wandsworth Council, Jonathan Cook, said: “If we continue (with Formula E) it would have to be the same weekend, as we have so many other events happening in the park, notably the Chase Corporate Challenge, a big running race which goes on immediately afterwards. We wouldn’t be able move that and nor would we want to.

“We have something like 600 events going on in the park throughout the year,” continued Cook. “They are not all on the scale of the Formula E event, but the ePrix has to fit in to the schedule of the other events, many of which have been going on for years.

So, are they quotes revealing that next year is not a certainty? Or quotes that are simply some public posturing ahead of contract negotiations? I don’t know. But what I did find interesting is that it was Formula E who referred to residents, whereas for the council the issue is not public opposition, but the competing demands of the park’s corporate users.

You can give the council your views on Formula E at their consultation site until 6 September, and if you are not a Formula E fan, you might like to visit the Save Battersea Park campaign site.

Battersea Park in seasonal racing attire
Battersea Park in seasonal racing attire
Battersea Park is almost back to normal, or at least the new normal with a lot more tarmac than there was before but many are still angry about it.

A number of local residents affected are organising a public meeting do discuss possible responses to Formula E this Friday.

The meeting takes place at Ethelburga Community Centre at 60 Worfield Street at 7pm on Friday 10 July.

While the complaints leading up to and during the event were certainly noticed by the council and I wondered if the town hall press office’s silence indicated a shift in opinion was coming (the press office is essentially part of the leader’s office, so a good indication of what’s going on) that silence was broken last Friday.

The timing of the press release is important. It was already out-of-date, detailing an event that was a week old, but was released the the day after the Conservative group meeting (a private meeting of Conservative councillors to which the party organiser and chief activists are also invited) which might imply the decision to try for another four years has been taken.
If the council is to reverse that decision, then public pressure has to be applied now, and not just when the park is disrupted in years to come. Friday’s meeting may be the start of that.

I took in Battersea Park on my morning run today. It is, again, open to mere mortals although a lot of evidence of Formula E remains. My route took me around the carriage drives, which were more or less fully open, although possibly more through oversight and perhaps not likely to remain that way all day, although there were no barriers, signs or security guards when I was there.

All around the park are collections of the fencing, concrete blocks and various bits and pieces of kit. Carriage Drive South was by far the worst, giving the impression that workers simply dropped everything where they stood yesterday ready to resume work this morning. The terracing and footbridge remain in place there.

Generally the concrete blocks have been removed from the course, although it looks like the barriers have still to be removed from the central road and the area around the junction with Carriage Drive East.

The only bit I couldn’t use was the new dual carriageway part of Carriage Drive West, where the amount of fencing and plant piled up meant I had to run on the tarmac where the boules area used to be.

So, you can get in and seem to be able to access most bits, but I suspect parts of the park will need to be closed off. A lot of freestanding fencing has been installed that I expect will be used to limit movement during work today. If nothing else there will be a lot vehicle movements there today, I spotted lots of forklifts and a couple of idling lorries.

Sadly, I must also report that I didn’t find the overnight tarmac job (which was impressive, when I report a pothole it takes three weeks for an acknowledgement!) on turn one made my run any faster at all.

Battersea Park's new racetrack taking shape. Good for Scalextric, not so good for park users
Battersea Park’s new racetrack taking shape. Good for Scalextric, not so good for park users.

When I found myself unable to support Formula E in Battersea Park I was perfectly content with being in a minority position. It was almost a habit in Wandsworth, something I considered a strength, both personal and policy-making.

I assumed that Formula E would come, and go, and a few people would be a bit put out, but it would soon be forgotten.

I certainly hadn’t anticipated the concrete and metal mess that Battersea Park has become.

It’s incredibly hard not to think a line has been crossed. I was concerned about the principle of selling the park being breached. Yes, bits of the park are available for private rent, but they are small portions of the park: even when they are closed off the park can still function as a park.

Now, it is impossible to consider Battersea Park as a meaningful green space, whatever carefully framed pictures the council tweet there are plenty more detailing the rest of the park

Instead we are faced with weeks of excessive disruption. (It has been months this time, but I assume that’s only due to the tarmac “enhancements” that won’t need repeating for the 2016–2019 races). I can’t describe how saddening it was when my daughter got excited about a nursery trip to Battersea Park, only to hear her slightly older brother who had been that day, lower her expectations: “Battersea Park isn’t a nice place to visit any more.”

The council has been remarkably quiet in answering criticism. I wonder if this is because they are preparing for a change of heart but want to keep that to themselves until after the race. I hope so, but also worry they are hoping to ride out the criticism.

But the mood seems to be changing. The Labour Party, having previously supported the event, have started changing their tone and throughout the debacle residents have been mobilising, organising a petition and a public meeting for shortly after the event.

It has long been my concern that the council lacks a vision of what is important to Wandsworth. Perhaps this will be one of those occasions when local residents are going to make sure they know what is important to Wandsworth.

I have been muted in my blogging, feeling it was diplomatic to simply keep my head down. And it probably still is.

My silence, along with the disappearance of a few blog posts and editing of a third, was stimulated by a colleague who pointed out that I made things difficult when I expressed different opinions to others in the group; a point of view I accepted at the time. But increasingly it grated. I’ve always been fond of George Patton’s line: “If everybody’s thinking alike then somebody isn’t thinking.”

The line was with me when I voted against the controlling group for the first time at the last meeting. I wrote in a draft blog post (which remains unpublished) at the time:

The first debate marked the first time I’ve voted against the group in council. Not something I did lightly, and not on a sexy subject: ward budgets for councillors. I suspect many would see it as being a grandiose councillor, but I have long thought there’s a strong argument that ward budgets (which would give councillors a small spending power for projects in their ward) would improve local democracy and accountability. If nothing else I can think of plenty of small projects in Shaftesbury, most recently the suggestion of lighting in the Lavender Gardens path by Asda, that would improve people’s lives with just a small investment. Additionally, I was not comfortable with over-turning the tradition that OSC decisions are respected.

I’m sure it hasn’t made me popular (I’ve already had one call to resign), but I felt it was the right thing to do.

During my re-selection process last year I highlighted my tendency to provide different thinking within the council, something the selection meeting seemed to welcome. Representing other points of view, bring new perspectives and thinking differently got me re-selected. Sullenly thinking what I’m told did not.

And so once again last night I felt it was the right thing to do when it came to supporting Formula E. Or not supporting it, as the case was. It won’t make me popular with colleagues, I’m sure, but I have already rehearsed my views on here, and while I have been quiet since, those views haven’t changed.

It is, of course, irrelevant to the final result. I was just one of three voting against (I was surprised to find Martin Johnson and Malcolm Grimston also taking the same view) with everyone else supporting the proposal. Being in a small minority isn’t necessarily a bad thing although it might be a strong indicator I’m totally wrong. It does, however, indicate that everyone is thinking, just that some are thinking differently. Above all, being in a minority doesn’t change my feeling that Battersea Park is something special and we risk that at our peril.