10th July 2001
The View from
an Inline Skater
original letter is here
Back to Vansittart
A Considered Response
Preface to our Response
We are grateful to 'Steve'
who runs a web site dedicated to Inline
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
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
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.
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
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
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: "...you
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
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...?
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
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
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
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?
Steve: We at UKskate.com
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
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
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!! http://www.ukskate.com/]
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