Published: 13 October 2011
by DAN CARRIER
A £60,000 cash pot that has been lying unused in council coffers is set to be spent on a small Victorian garden in Camden Town.
But how the money is used has caused controversy among people living nearby, with some saying they want a set of post-war railings removed to discourage dog owners from using it, while others say the railings will keep the site well-defined and not simply a grass verge along the side of a busy road.
The cash has been banked for nearly 10 years now, with it being handed over to the Town Hall as part of a Section 106 planning agreement with a developer who turned the former Roman Catholic school St Richard of Chichester into flats.
College Gardens, in Royal College Street, was handed to the Vestry of St Pancras in 1878 by Joseph Salter, an auditor to the Vestry and the man who established the estate agency, Salter Rex. The garden boasts a marble drinking fountain donated in memory of Rex.
Plans considered over the summer by people living nearby include removing the railings from around the site, which some say encourages the gardens to be the domain simply for a small group who use it to exercise their dogs.
But these ideas have met with opposition from groups including the London Parks and gardens Trust.
Chairman Christopher Sumner wrote to the Town Hall saying that while the current railings were post-war replacements of the original and more ornate Victorian gates, they “serve to define the space and give necessary sense of enclosure and safety from traffic to users of the gardens and would protect any enhanced planting.”
English Heritage have also called for the railings to be kept – although they want to see copies of what was on the site originally reinstated.
The conservation body writes: “Railings form an important element of the public space which was certainly designed with perimeter railings during the Victorian period. They should consider reinstating appropriately detailed railings in any proposed restoration scheme.”
Others are less keen to see the post-war railings stay in place.
Dot and Noel Fraser, who run the music shop Dot’s, opposite the park, say they feel removing the railings would mean more people used the garden.
Mrs Fraser said: “It needs to be opened up. All it is used for at the moment is dogs. A lot of people do want to keep the fence but I am not sure what function it serves.”
They added that there is a chance to make the garden a beautiful feature for all. Mr Fraser said: “It is a lot of money for what is quite a small space, and it could have new benches and spring flowers.”
Cantelowes ward Lib Dem councillor Paul Braithwaite also believes removing the railings would mean the site was used by more people.
He said: “The community have been consulted and there is a very promising scheme. It has become a run-down dog toilet and removing the railings should make it more permeable and attractive for residents to use.”
He also criticised the time taken to spend the £60,000 handed to the council. He added: “It seems different departments have not worked co-operatively together to get this money spent.
“There have been endless delays and that is unsatisfactory.”