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10th July 2001

The View from an Inline Skater
A Considered Response

The original letter is here

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Preface to our Response

We are grateful to 'Steve' who runs a web site dedicated to Inline skating and who spent considerable time in writing at length in support of skaters and the facility at Vansittart Road Recreation Ground. His letter is here. We want to take this opportunity to explain the reasons behind our extensive coverage, rather than reiterate the problems themselves

We believe that the problems created by the skate park are primarily due to its location. In the following we list a number of reasons why Vansittart Rec is inappropriate and we are supported in our view by professionals. Although it might seem that we are against the skaters themselves, this is obviously too simplistic. We are confident that the vast majority of skaters are perfectly well behaved, are considerate towards others and appreciate the provision of the skate park. It is also true that the real enthusiast skater will take care of the facility to the best of their ability.

We clarify therefore that we are unhappy, some would say furious, about the situation that has arisen in and around the park in the last six or so weeks. There is an overwhelming sense of inaction by the authorites and so we shall be continuing to press for positive steps to reduce the vandalism, the graffiti and the late night disturbances that regularly occur. It is a only a small minority of troublemakers, yet no attempt is made to identify them and take the appropriate action.

The following response is based on the email we sent to Steve on 9th July. It has been slightly modified for inclusion here but no arguments have been changed.

Our Response to Steve

Many thanks for the considerable time you have taken to present your views of the skate park controversy. Your extensive comments are very valuable and so I hope that the following is seen as considered and rational explanation of the unacceptable situation local residents now find themselves in.

Taking a 'nimby' view?
I have re-read all our articles to make sure that 'closure' does not feature prominently, if at all, and I am satisfied that in the main our complaint is aimed at the borough and their 'flaky' implementation of the skate park. It is not an 'all out' demand for the park's closure. We do however have strong grounds for claiming that the park is in the wrong location. It is unfortunate if that comes across as a 'nimby' attitude, but where so many aspects could have been so much better catered for in the alternative that we have in mind, and where we have professional reassurance that a location in the centre of a residential area is undesirable, we are confident that a claim that the park should be moved, not closed, is reasonable. In addition, we have been advised that a comparatively remote dead-end area, unlit, and surrounded by hedges and trees within yards of a much younger persons' play area is also a mistake. It has been suggested that even some councillors and borough officials agree that an unnecessary problem has been caused by inappropriate siting. This is not 'nimbyism', this is common sense, which has been rather lacking in this whole project. In the following therefore I shall attempt to reassure you that although we have been harsh on the skate park, it is because we are so despairing of the borough's ability to implement the project thoughtfully and competently.
It was always considered important that we did our best to avoid a 'nimby' attitude and in our first leaflet distribution to local residents we made no mention of closing or even moving the site. The leaflet asked for
supervision pure and simple. There may be a few residents who have assumed that the campaign is devoted to the skate park's closure but I for one cannot promote that view on the web site, and will not, unless the situation becomes so unacceptable that it becomes essential.
As you have taken so much time to put the case, I will try and explain the background to as many of the points as possible that you have picked up on from the site.

I have known Vansittart Recreation Ground since I was very small. It is where I played every day. On three occasions in the last 50 years the powers that be have tried to build on the land. Reasoned opposition foiled the plans on all three occasions and was supported by the Ministry at each attempt. 'Nimby' if you like, but with Ministry acceptance that the plans were unacceptable for several reasons, so it was 'nimby for good reason', primarily because it meant a serious shortfall in legal requirements for Public Open Space.
The failed attempt to build on the 'rec' last time around meant that something else had to be planned for the area. It is debatable whether anything actually 'had to be done' or whether the place could have just been left as an attractive park, open space and athletics area, but that is another story.
The inclusion of the skate park was a last minute idea tacked onto a plan decided upon in 1999. Those who knew had no complaints about the skate park plan, partly because none of the residents expected the situation that we have now, and partly, speaking for myself, because overall we were being offered substantial plantings of trees and bushes, plus a children's play area which reassured us that for now at least the threat of almost two hundred homes on an inappropriate area of town (by the ministry's own confirmation) was behind us. So all seemed well with work taking place last autumn and earlier this spring.

The past two months
During May the first alarm bells rang. My younger son is six and so my wife took him there to play. He was delighted and so was I. Then there was the first report of 'unpleasantness' (I deliberately understate my description) by teenagers towards several mothers with young children and I felt sick to the pit of my stomach. For several days I felt thoroughly depressed at the thought of my son playing in such an atmosphere. It dawned on me that to place a skate area within yards of an area designed for toddlers and young children was unfathomable.
They were just too close together. The borough had six acres to 'play' with at Vansittart Recreation Ground. Yet they crammed the skate park in the top corner, right next to the youngsters' area. Further, it was directly overlooking a subway featuring a very attractive and well designed mural painted by people with learning difficulties from The Oakbridge Centre. Local people commented on how pleasant it was to see it as they walked through the underpass. Added to this was the Sustrans cycle path routed through at this point.
The Oakbridge Millennium Mural had remained virtually untouched for almost two years. The odd 'joke' - felt pen style 'adjustments' - but nothing extensive or serious. Admittedly the opposite wall, featuring panels painted in bright colours (because the Oakbridge people could not undertake both sides) had suffered from some minor graffiti on rare occasions but this had been reasonably quickly put right.
With the arrival of the Skate Park the graffiti started up in earnest, and on one occasion a thick brush and tin of blue paint had quite obviously been deliberately brought to the underpass to daub every single coloured panel. I saw the tin the next morning, and the brush, lying in the skate area. I should have picked them up there and then but left it for half an hour to get my camera. When I returned they had been cleared away. From then on I was determined to use the web site to make the Borough realise that if they wanted to install a skate park at that point, then they had to take on board their resulting responsibilities, which includes making good graffiti damage at the earliest possible moment and attending to all the other related problems promptly as well.
The problems associated with an unknown percentage of skate park users are undeniable, and have been reported both to me, and I am told, to the Borough, in abundance. When appropriate I have personally reported damage or other matters to the Borough when immediate attention was essential, on one occasion involving an urgent matter of public health. Although that one specific matter was attended to within a few hours - it had to be - what drives me now is that after six weeks, the borough has still not removed the graffiti and for five days could not even remove four trees that had been ripped from the ground. It took equally as long to refix the torn down fencing. (But was it fixed? No, it was hooked over the posts with no attempt to resecure it! And so it has remained for a number of days since.)
All relevant residents' complaints in these past six weeks have been reported and illustrated as promptly as possible, and are intended to press home the point that it is not possible to install a skate park without accepting the responsibility to make good damage at the first opportunity and to provide supervision to reduce the incidence of such damage. (Vandalism actually). I realise that vandalism occurs throughout the town. I also realise that when you create a new facility for the young, you also attract additional vandalism to the area adjacent to and within that attraction. So it needs supervising! As I write I hear that supervision will be provided during the summer holidays. I doubt this would have been the case without the 'encouragement' that our web site has been able to provide. But of course the real problem is 'after hours' and that has not been addressed bar a mention of a beat bobby who has enough on his plate already!

What happens next?
Now we get into the realms of what the authorities should do about Vansittart Rec as it stands, and can do, given their resources. We know the police are desperately understaffed. I would dearly like to stir it up with the police but know that they can do almost nothing, so I shan't have a go at them. And anyway, I am satisfied that any complaints about police actions will have a negative effect in that once a community stops supporting its police force, you might as well not have the police force and local problems will be magnified tenfold. So I will support them, and leave them out of it in the main.
It has to be accepted that vandalism is not a high priority on the police's part, so we are left with the only other alternative option which is our demand that the Borough take on responsibility for their actions and make good damage and graffiti at the first opportunity so that the area does not become too unsightly. They must also provide supervision to ensure that the unsavoury events that I have witnessed personally, and have been told of, are minimised. Most of these stories have been alluded to in the web pages themselves so I will not reiterate them here, but please believe me that there are no known exaggerations. On the contrary, some stories have been down-played as I fall over backwards not to appear hysterical. But we do have major problems with a certain group and we insist that the Borough must take responsibility. At the moment they are not.
As just one example, the underpass is increasingly unsightly. The best way to cure graffiti is to respond within twenty four hours either by cleaning it off, or painting over it, and by applying a protective layer. This latter requires five days to cure and so needs covering whilst it does so. Too costly they say, so it does not get done. Result? Increased graffiti. Increased resident irritation, even anger. Certainly frustration. And the borough ends up with a significantly larger graffiti problem than it had before.
We believe that the Borough should take responsibility for the cub scout group's fence, smashed down for some 50 yards of its length. Twenty years the fence has been there, with only minor damage. Suddenly it is a through route across Goslar Way to the skate park. I have seen teenagers with my own eyes running across the dual carriageway at that point. I have also seen the group that I believe was responsible for the damage to the fence as I walked home late one night (same night as the scout hut windows were vandalised). I do not accept that the two events are unrelated or that it would have happened had the skate park not been there.
But as I say, although I would dearly love to see the skate park moved to an appropriate location, for my part I shall first press for effective supervision and action. only later pressing for a move if supervision fails. Behind the scenes and off the record I have been saying that identification and prosecution of the individuals responsible for the vandalism should be a priority. With a concerted effort over a short time, it could well be possible to identify those responsible and take appropriate steps to 'dissuade them from repeating their unsocial acts'.

I have gone on too long. Let me just address your specific points.

Steve writes: You and others have gone out of your way to show how bad it all is without even giving it a chance.

The early stages of the project were back in 1999 and no opposition was voiced. The current complaints have only arisen in the last six weeks. We wanted supervision the moment it became clear that, if left unsupervised, residents were going to see and suffer the problems that we have reported. Even in the first few days problems were arising as described above. In this short period we have seen the area much deteriorated. However long we leave it, things will not get better unless we do our best to get the authorities to act now. If it is left until later, they will say, "You haven't complained before. Why now? You should have complained earlier."

Steve writes: The "NIMBY" factor is clearly evident here. ie "it's a good idea, but "Not In My Back Yard"!

See above. Some things are 'nimby', some things are valid complaints. A residential area is not the right place, I have been assured on good authority. I am sure you agree that skate parks cannot be put up wherever there is an area of land large enough. The implications of the location must be considered. The best place for the skate park is beside the Leisure Centre. The parking is there, the staff are there, other facilities are there, the first aid, the communications and plenty of space to build something as good as Rickmansworth (I assume - not seen it yet. Only papers). It seems ideal. It is possible to install the park and screen it where required, yet oversee the place very conveniently. And almost no houses close by at all.

"The right place" cannot be at the end of a dead end, surrounded by hedges, over a subway so that bottles can be thrown at people and broken glass litter the cycle path (Sustrans No. 4), not beside a childrens play area, not in darkness, etc. etc.
Call that nimbyism if you like, I don't agree.

Steve writes: " can go into just about any underpass in the country and be faced with unsightly graffiti."

The war against graffiti and those who cause it is another matter. It was actually a subject on the web site a month or so before all this blew up. The problem had increased in Windsor substantially over the past year because a concerted effort has not been made by those who should be making the effort to stamp it out. Catch and prosecute about 20 or so offenders and 99% of the problem, will go away. It is just unfortunate that the skate park is so close to the underpass that those responsible choose to 'tag' there. It is not just an underpass. It is an underpass with a high quality and artistic mural that local people much admire and enjoy, created by disabled people. It is currently in mortal danger because any further vanadalism will mean that it will have to be removed and that would be tragic.

Steve writes about the noise of the steel ramps in use late at night: "I wonder how much the noise is noticed more due to home windows being open and people trying to listen out for the noise."

The complaints about noise are purely about this noise 'late at night'. I promise you that the 'Chinese water torture' bang... short pause.. bang... longer pause.. bang bang... over an extended period when many people are trying to sleep is far worse than the constant buzz of traffic. You could say the same about the aircraft. These are a different noises from a 'legitimate' source over which no individual has any control and anyway is beyond the scope of this campaign. The problem is the irregular thumping and banging that can become intolerable for even the most level headed and understanding of people. It is an intrusion for the many houses that are so close by and carries for several hundreds of yards. This was noticed and complained about in the comparative chill of the late spring and has nothing to do with windows being open. Now it must be even worse with the recent hot weather. And now they talk of chains - an idea scrapped by Rickmansworth as they become industrial strength wind chimes.

Steve writes: Full time supervision for a small outdoor skatepark is almost unprecedented.

Well, we are talking about both skate park and children's area, the latter needing supervision so that youngsters (around the age of 6) can play there without being annoyed or upset by the older boys (around the age of 16+). Often not the case at the moment. We have seen the results of nil supervision and it is not an option.

Steve writes: [Rickmansworth] have gone to extremes to passify the many local elderly residents which are close to the park. (This was an unfortunate choice of location, more so than Vansittart).

I guess the Rickmansworth residents would have been accused of 'nimbyism' if they dared suggest as much! I am glad that you admit there are some areas that are unsuitable. Anyway here I must disagree. There are sheltered homes for the elderly just across the road, just twenty yards from Vansittart Skate Park. [As this reply was sent to Steve we received an email from the daughter of an elderly couple living in these flats and reporting disturbances at 5.30 in the morning!] Surely Rickmansworth cannot be nearer!!!!!!! I must try and get there. I have their literature only. Plans have also been prepared to build on land directly across the road from the skate park. Do we stop the houses because of the skate park, or do we... er... relocate the skate park...?

Steve: [Rickmansworth] is closed all day on Sundays,

Sunday opening is fine by me. Just so long as it is in the right place and supervised. The problem is in what happens after hours.

Steve: There is what appears to be a very secure, very expensive steel fence all around [Rickmansworth]. The chains were in use the last time I visted the park. Believe me, you really "CANNOT" skate the ramps when the chains are on. It also only takes a few minutes to put them on. It's hardly going to disturb the neighbourhood when they are chained up.

I was told by someone in Rickmansworth that the chain idea was scrapped. Well, six weeks have gone by and our ramps are not chained. This might stop the banging mentioned above late at night, but it is going to take some doing to stop the teenagers banging the chains on the ramps. If have often seen them throwing stones onto the ramps because they like the noise they make rattling down.

Steve: ...either the local beat bobby, if you have one, or a designated authoritive person employed by the council visit the park at least a couple of times a day...

Yep, that is what we want... supervision. Let me put that another way. We want an acceptance that the skate park is causing problems for the local residents and so the authorities should take steps to minimise same. The local beat bobby is not I am afraid going to have the time to take this on very often, but if the skate park was in the right place, like by the Leisure Centre... the need would not arise.

Steve: ...the regular dedicated skaters who to a certain extent will carry out some "policing" of their own...

Self policing is suggested by ROSPA. Let's get it in place. No attempts so far.

Steve: ...CCTV would of course help enforce further the expected levels of behaviour.

Interesting this one. Don't tell anyone but the CCTV operator has no more powers than the average citizen. If he/she spots anything the police can be informed but nothing special happens. It is no different to a member of the public ringing in. The police will respond as best they can. There is value in videoing miscreants though. I agree that there must be some value.

Steve: PLEASE don't make it a wooden fence ! Bracknell council recently spent a fortune on erecting a monstrous 3m high wooden fence around one local skatepark. This has had a negative affect, since people can't see what's going on inside ! People who don't even skate, board or BMX are going there simply because it's of of sight! If it's decided to have a fence, it should be a strong steel mesh with a difficult to scale design.

Good point. The 3m high fence was originally planned then dropped. We are pressing for it. Let's hope the Borough know what to build. We don't want to appear too prescriptive!

Steve: The equipment is designed to be used by at least 4 wheeled "extreme" sports. These include BMX and mountain bikes, skateboards, Inline skates and even Scooters. The metal design of the ramps is actually better for the bikes as their "pegs and pedals" tend to cause damage to wooden ramps.

If more than one group of users enjoy a benefit then so be it. I was told that bikes damage the kit, that's all. It's a matter of supervision.

Steve: ...much of the perceived fear of going near the skatepark is completely unfounded. ...I can see why an elderly person in particular may feel intimidated...

This story was a telephone report from a very robust lady who was not impressed with the behaviour of the teenagers around her. It was an unpleasant experience, and unless I am muddling two reports, her grandchildren did not want to go back there. If the two areas were at a suitable distance apart, the problem would not have arisen. Lack of thinking somewhere? Or do we not take the old generation (who live directly opposite) into account? [This response has been edited from the original email]

Steve: ...any skater will tell you how dangerous stones etc are when skating. Even small stones will have the effect of locking your wheels sending you lurching forward to the floor. It's unlikely that skaters or boarders would be the culprits...

Well, that is what is happening.Actually, following our report about the stones and an iron bar and other handy implements, the area was fairly thoroughly cleared, but the small stones and mud clods remain and will do so until the grass grows, which it won't 'cos it's too close to the skate area and will never get a chance. Lack of thinking somewhere? [Edited]

Steve: We at are currently seeking to build a large indoor facility in the Thames Valley area to meet this growing demand.

I hope you get all our customers!

Steve: Perhaps councils should reserve land 1 mile away from each town and build all the youth facilities there ! Get real please !

Now you are being unfair. It is not what we have said and it is not what we are pushing for as I have tried to illustrate above. Reminder. There was no opposition to the skate park until after it was built and many problems suddenly arose as a result.

Steve: [about vandalism] I'd be interested to see info on your site ... as to whether those involved were carrying skateboards, wearing skates, or were on BMX bikes.

They skate to and from the park. Two aggressively stayed in the middle of the road as they skated towards me in the car, swerving out of the way after forcing me to slow considerably. I have not put that incident on the web, it is a one off. I live near enough to the skate park to observe all that has happened often first hand and on a daily basis. I can merely report the problems that were a rarity until late May and which are now commonplace.

Steve: I suspect as in the case of other such facilities I visit regularly, that the worst offenders are not actually participants in the sport itself...

Sadly that is probably true.

Steve: I would like you and your supporters to visit my site and see what the sport is all about.

Sorry, I won't be able to take you up on your offer
[to see videos of skate areas around the country] but I will include the URL on Vansittart page index. [Actually right here too!!]

We are not against the sport and have never opposed the skate park concept. We wish them all good luck and I trust that you will get your indoor facility, and I am sure that you will not antagonise the locals by ignoring their problems as your enthusiasts travel to and fro.


With thanks again to Steve from The Editor, Thamesweb

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