This article was first published on Tuesday, September 28, 2021 on the Wired868 website under the title, “Afra Raymond returns to Nelson Mandela Park and refuses to play ball with National Trust“
Supposedly in response to my own post in these pages on 9 September 2021, the National Trust made an engaging and informative post here on 17 September 2021. The most striking aspect of that reply was that the essential query was not addressed at all.
For those who have an interest in these issues, let me attempt to re-state here just what those essential issues are.
The constant elision of events and evasions by our public agencies cannot go unchallenged. I am also going to include the PoS Mayor’s office in this article as there are related areas for consideration.
To dismantle elision, we have to recognise the blend of evasive and dismissive techniques now commonly employed by our public agencies when these sharp challenges emerge. Using the Nelson Mandela Park episode as a worked example, I asked specific questions of the National Trust.
They replied by giving details of their related work along with three alarming claims. So, before dealing with those claims, please let us note that the substantive queries were side-stepped and a lot of other interesting points were used in delivering a response, without replying.
This is a common method, which allows the agency to claim that concerns have been addressed and it has proven very useful in this era of a sheer information torrent, with the consequent shortening of our attention-spans. But for those who take the time to read and reason, the method proves less effective.
History is rich in irony, so it is striking that we are having this particular exchange on the role and elisions of the National Trust, which has preservation as its mission. You see, for those who sometimes wonder how this or that episode or this or that person could have been wiped from the history books and virtually erased, this is how it happens.
Even when we are no longer colonised, even though we are now a Republic, even though we have never had more educated people in our society and even though we have never had such a low-cost, high-impact way to spread information, we still have to deal with Certain Things.
These Certain Things include double-talking and evasive officials who will not hesitate to hide documents and other officials who are not even curious about the things within their remit. We have to recognise those detrimental and backward behaviours and challenge them.
Silence is not an option; our vigilance and voices are essential if we are to progress.
Let us now turn to the National Trust’s claims.
- The first relates to private work by public institutions.
The National Trust made the invaluable point that ‘…not every action can or should be conducted in the full view of the public and I am sure that most persons will appreciate the need for quiet, sensitive intervention in some situations…’ and I could not agree more.
As in many other issues, it is an important matter of extent. Therefore, the decisive question for any organisation would have to be just how is the decision to ‘go public’ taken? Along with that go inescapable aspects such as when and why.
The question arising here is the extent to which those approaches should prevail in our public agencies. Given the National Trust’s statutory remit with respect to preserving our parks and the widespread public concern on the proposals for the Nelson Mandela Park, in my view, it is unacceptable for that institution to have remained silent on this issue. Especially at the same time as it is organising a webinar on Central Park, etc.
- This leads to the second alarming claim: the National Trust has seen no proposals for the Park.
On the Nelson Mandela Park, we are told that “…the National Trust has seen no proposals for the Park and, as far as we are aware, this proposal has effectively been shelved by the decision makers…”
So, the public agency which is funded with public money and charged with the responsibility for preserving our parks claims that it has not seen the Nelson Mandela Park proposal. Cool so.
Given the widespread public concern, as reflected in Mayor Joel Martinez’s remarks (to which we shall come), the National Trust is showing a striking, even sobering, lack of curiosity about this proposal.
With no trace of irony at its declaration of not knowing, the National Trust then doubles-down to make the dismissive claim that the proposals have been shelved. The proposal was shelved as a result of widespread public concern and objections.
This is the side-stepping motion, so what you were concerned about and is in our remit, we do not know about and have not asked about; in any case, those proposals have been shelved.
If anyone is interested, an 18-page version of the proposal is available here. I do not think that this can be the complete proposal, which now ought to be published by the public agencies which have it. In any case, 19:52pm on 29th July 2021 was when I sent the proposal to the National Trust Chair at her private email. So, even if one takes the position that it was not sent to the National Trust directly, it was emailed to the Chair, who is the one person who ought to have sent that to the National Trust. You see?
- Claim number three says that Afra could have just made a call.
The assertion is that I could have called and the suggestion is that my writing before doing so was somehow unreasonable. Surely the notion that on a matter of public interest one ought privately to contact a public agency which has chosen silence and that such action would obviate the requirement to ventilate these important issues is simply untenable.
In any case and for the record, before publication I did call the Chair at both her numbers and I also left a post on the National Trust’s FB page. Of course, it was equally possible for the National Trust to have reached out to me for a copy of that proposal.
But there you have it. So, apart from this suggestion being untenable, it is also false.
These three, taken together, taste terrible.
So, what are the questions to which the National Trust ought to reply?
On the Public Consultation of 25 July 2021:
- Was the National Trust invited to participate?
- If that invitation was issued, did the National Trust participate in the consultation?
- If the National Trust was not invited, which, in my view, would have been a serious omission, did they take up that issue at all or during their meeting with the PoS Mayor on 25 August 2021 when proposals for Woodford Square were discussed?
- Did the National Trust request a copy of the Nelson Mandela Park proposal from either the PoS Mayor or its line ministry, Planning & Development?
- If the National Trust did make those requests, what were the responses of those agencies?
- If the National Trust did not make those requests, why not?
On the role of the PoS Mayor:
The PoS Mayor moved from pretending that there had been some consultation, in other words, that the public had spoken, etc. (Monday 1 August 2021: “Participants willingly provided feedback on the proposed changes. We were able to receive some very constructive information and criticism as to the development of the park,” said Martinez…) to complaining that there was too much negativity: (Friday 5 August 2021: “But I didn’t expect such a barrage of negativity…”
It all seemed as if the Mayor had a horse in the race. In any case, there was not even the pretence of being a detached or neutral public official.
Which, come to think of it, is what this column is really all about…
Did the PoS Mayor receive a proposal from Capital Sport Facility Ltd? Was it 18 pages long or was it larger? Does the PoS Mayor intend to share the proposal? Has the proposer had a promise of privacy from the PoS Mayor and other officials? Has the PoS Mayor tacitly agreed to let this one slide into obscurity?
Of course, that strategy would be negated by publication of the proposal with the further discussions such a move would engender, which might explain the silence and evasions from both the National Trust and the PoS Mayor’s office.
My assessments of the likely terms and impact of the Capital Sports Facility proposal are based on professional experience and training, leading me to take a dim view of what has been revealed thus far. Of course, my assessments may be wrong; this might be a sound proposal, with benefits which significantly outweigh its costs.
But the only way we can know for certain is to have the full proposal published, you see? So its concealment and the dismissal of concerns are critical if the respectability of the involved parties and the viability of its likely reappearance are to be maintained. If I were wrong and the project were sound, the officials could simply publish the proposal.
But here we are…
In an educated society, the only way these kinds of schemes can survive is for the proposers to have the support of public agencies which are guilty of moral turpitude by tacitly backing detrimental proposals and other intellectually bankrupt agencies entirely unable to explain their institution’s position on important proposals.
That is what we have to face; is like we between a rock and a hard place.
These are some of the other species of the disease on show here; it is not always all about the money.