The End of the Gunnersbury Park Joint Committee

Probably the last meeting of the Gunnersbury Park Joint Advisory Panel was held on Friday 26th January 2018. A Joint Committee was formed to manage the Park when Ealing and Acton bought the estate in the 1920s, and was enlarged soon after when Brentford and Chiswick joined in the management. It was remodelled for equal representation when the London Boroughs were formed in the 1960s, and was converted into an Advisory Panel when local authorities introduced Cabinet government in 2000 and each vested responsibility in a Cabinet member instead of a committee.

The GPJAP might have one last meeting, perhaps in the form of a visit to the Park, to celebrate the restoration work. They will have to do this before 22nd March, the date on which pre-election “purdah” prevents activity which might give unfair advantage in the elections on 3rd May.

In April the management of the Park will be handed over to the Gunnersbury Estate (2026) Community Interest Company, which is jointly owned by Ealing and Hounslow. The boroughs have the power to nominate one Lead Director each to the CIC, and the CIC will report to both Cabinets through their respective Lead Members. The CIC will operate through an annual agreement with the boroughs – it will be a form of arms-length management organisation. From now on the formal mechanism for influencing that agreement and the management and development of the estate will be for locals and visitors to discuss issues with ward councillors, who would in turn discuss them with the lead Cabinet member who might in turn discuss them with their nominated Director or amend the annual agreement. A more effective method of exercising either influence or scrutiny may be needed.

The CIC might choose to establish other methods as well. CICs are regulated by the Office of the Regulator. A CIC must file its annual accounts and directors’ report, which has to include details of what it has done to benefit the community and the processes and outcomes of any consultation with “persons affected by the company’s activities”. Unless something is written into its agreement with the two Councils, it is not obliged to do any more than this, although it might choose to do so. Freedom of Information legislation does not apply to its records.

Even once the astonishing restoration work is complete and the various income-generating strategies have started working, Gunnersbury may face long-term funding problems. If it does, it will need all the community engagement and commitment it can muster. Now that the councillors’ formal, minuted meetings have ended, a lot depends on how the CIC chooses to engage with Gunnersbury’s users and visitors.

James Wisdom
31 January 2018