Initial criticisms of Wray Crescent cricket proposals
As you know, Islington Council is pressing forward with its plans for cricket in Wray Crescent Park. Meanwhile the image above shows the extent to which it has funded alternatives to cricket in the park.
The council is hosting two online information sessions (find out more on those here) and we’d urge you to attend them and work to make our communities voice heard.
The sessions take place using Zoom on:
- Thursday 10 June, 7-8pm.
- Tuesday 15 June, 7-8pm.
We are very concerned at elements of the plan, and we thought we’d share some of our reasons here:
Initial criticisms of Wray Crescent cricket proposals
Islington is the most densely populated local authority in the UK and the second smallest London borough by area, according to the Cripplegate Foundation’s 2019 State of Equalities Report. Tollington is one of the two most densely populated wards in Islington (11-12% higher than the Islington average).
Wray Crescent is one of North Islington’s larger green spaces, and the largest green space in Tollington ward. Islington has the least green space per head of population of any local authority in the UK.
According to the OCSI report of 2019, Tollington ward has the following characteristics:
- 14,220 people live in the area.
- 27% of children live in poverty.
- 17% have a long-term illness
- 64% of households have no car.
- The Index Of Multiple Deprivation 2015 shows gives Tollington an index figure of 61.9%, which means it is one of the most deprived areas in Islington.
- According to the 2011 census as cited by Cripplegate, Tollington has a population density almost three times the London average – 154.4 persons/hectare compared to a London average of 53.5 people per hectare.
- This means Islington has a higher population density than the city average of Beijing, Bogota and Delhi.
- At the same time, 29.2% of houses are overcrowded.
In this context, space is essential to community wellbeing. And parks are essential to that.
We know that in the early ‘70’s when the decision was made to level existing structures to create the park it was to create a green space for public good. At that time, it was presented to the public as a green space they could use. Public meetings were held during which the local community was encouraged to make use of the space. It was only at some point in the late 90’s that the circle was fenced off – prior to this it was a truly open space.
Since then, some of the biggest investments in the park have been made primarily to one activity, cricket, which consumes the vast majority of financial investment – far, far beyond any other activity – made in Wray Crescent Park.
The net fences cost £69,000 and were erected despite opposition from the community; the current cricket square cost (we think) c.£50,000 when it was replaced just a few years ago. (UPDATE: We were told since writing this that the cost was around £10,000, but we think it was installed with an extensive drainage system fro the cricket pitch at a cost of over £50k. Unfortunately, that drainage means the adjoining portions of the park are muddy in winter. We have no idea what the maintenance cost of the space is, but it seems to consume more hours than the rest of the park.
Yet, we are not aware that any significant attempt at a community engagement survey to determine if this use reflects what the local community wants or needs.
In June 2020, we ran a small survey to get some sense of what the community wants or needs. We received 168 responses. We would value the opportunity to survey the entire local community in future.
During our survey we noticed the cricket community became galvanized at a question regarding cricket’s dominance of the park and attempted to skew the results, despite which the data shows that beyond those adherents the game is tolerated, rather than loved.
It is worth reflecting that the local community that relies on this precious 2 hectares of space in a borough in which 154.4 people share each hectare. It is notable that the average cricket game sees 22 people consume at least one hectare of land. We must ask what the community benefit of this might be?
Cricket: one of many uses
The proposed plan suggests the open space is to become a professional centre of excellence for cricket, which implies it will be regularly used by those who love the sport.
When we asked local people what they wanted from our park we were surprised to see the cricket club asking their members, many of whom don’t live in the area, to contribute to the to the survey. It is interesting that even with their understandably partisan contribution, this is what we learned.
Within our survey, we asked:
“Are you happy the open space hosts cricket every weekday evening and most weekends in summer?”
We will stress that while we do not believe the community wants cricket to stop, it does want cricket to be one of many supported activities in this precious space, rather than the most favoured activity.
Many respondents expressed frustration that advance information regarding bookings is not made easily or consistently available to local park users. How do families that rely on the space plan their day?
What else could we do?
The community space we were promised in Wray Crescent seems to be nothing more than changing rooms with a hall in the middle people can use when cricket isn’t being played. But what else could the community do with the space? And what consideration has been made of this?
Our survey also asked:
“What new activities would you like to see in Wray Crescent Park?”
We received 86 suggestions, some of which contained multiple ideas.
It is interesting that for the most part the proponents of cricket played a defensive game and offered minimal input into the park as a shared space, even though they dominate the space during their games.
Despite having all the cards – and the council — in their favour, the answers they provide suggest they have little empathy for the needs of other park users.
Our survey showed the community has many ideas as to what to do with the space:
The top 12 suggestions made in our survey fit into the following broad categories:
- Cycling and (non-cricket) sport events and training, including better football facilities, a bowling green, cycling training, a running track and outdoor gym equipment: 31
- Events: Boot sales, a market, fair, food festival, summer festival fun days, arts and movie nights: 27
- Gardening/nature: 21
- Cricket/cricket-related: 17
- Yoga/Pilates/TaiChi sessions: 13
- Live events inc. acoustic gigs, arts and movie nights): 11
- Children’s sports: 11
- A café: 9
- Updated Playground equipment: 2
- Water fountain for humans and animals 2
These results make it clear that in terms of park users, cricket is not regarded as a primary need within the community it is being inserted into – even with input from those using our precious and much-needed open space for their hobby.
Of course, serving a community means ensuring space is preserved to support niche interests – whether these include free yoga sessions for community health, football, gym equipment, petanque, gardening or other niche sports, including cricket.
It is notable that outdoor gym equipment would reportedly require an investment of c.£30,000.
Unfortunately, we have been told that it is unlikely we will be permitted to place this in the open space because of the cricket, which underlines the dominance that single interest has over this valuable public space in one of the most densely populated wards in Islington.
In terms of additional facilities for the park, suggestions included:
- A café
- Better gym equipment
- Better playground equipment
- A bowling green
- A water fountain for humans and animals
- A paddling pool
- Additional seating areas (This survey took place before the Friends group raised funds and added additional seating to the park)
- A bandstand to replace the ugly bus stop structure
- Picnic tables
- A barbecue area.
Suitability of Wray Crescent
We do not believe the community has ever been properly consulted on the playing of cricket in Wray Crescent. And there are questions as to the suitability of the space for the game based on size alone. That is why fences were erected to protect neighbouring property, as if these had not been put in place the council would not have been able to take out insurance to support the sport – the insurers insisted on property protection.
Size is an issue.
The ICC Test Match Standard Playing Conditions (October 2014) Law 19.1 defines the playing area for cricket as a minimum of 137.16m from boundary-to-boundary square of the pitch, with the shorter of the two square boundaries a minimum of 59.43m.
A rough calculation on this shows that cricket requires a field of 1.88 hectares.
Yet the entirety of Wray Crescent is 2.13 hectares in size, which means the game requires far more space than this small local park can provide.
There are at least two other parks in which cricket would not cause the same degree of nuisance to other park users: Highbury Fields and Caledonian Park.
|Relative sizes of Islington’s larger parks|
|Highbury Fields||11.75 hectares|
|Caledonian Park||7.4 hectares|
|Whittington Park||4.09 hectares|
|Barnard Park||3.66 hectares|
|Rosemary Gardens||2.63 hectares|
|Elthorne Park||2.45 hectares|
|Wray Crescent||2.13 hectares|
|Paradise Park||1.85 hectares|
|King Square Gardens||1.18 hectares|
|Spa Fields||0.82 hectares|
|(Source Islington Council)|
Lack of consultation and community involvement
The Friends of Wray Crescent have been attempting to engage with Islington Council at every level to lobby for the new construction to reflect a more pluralistic set of needs.
We appear to have wasted our time.
As this image taken from Islington Council’s Ward Improvement Plan as published on 12 June 2017 shows, the plans we see for this construction today have not changed in one single detail.
The community has not been consulted and our attempts to suggest improvements on the design to address the wider set of needs of our community seem to have been utterly ignored.
We are disappointed that the only community being consulted here is the cricket community, while the wider community is simply being told to live with the consequences.
Does cricket create income?
One argument used in support of cricket is that by hosting these games in our park we generate revenue to help sustain the park.
This doesn’t bear scrutiny.
The pitch costs around £96 to hire for a day.
We do not know for certain what the costs of the cricket redevelopment in Wray Crescent may be. The £6.9 million figure mentioned in the council circular is a little misleading as that reflects an overall investment across Islington.
We can estimate the cost of the pavilion is likely to consist of c.£100,000 for demolition and removal of the existing structure and potentially £350,000 for the new structure, much of this from public funds.
Add to this the cost of the netted fencing required to protect local property from the consequences of the park being too small for cricket costing c.£68,000 and the existing cricket square and drainage costing around £50,000 when replaced a few years ago, and you have c. £568,000 in spending, to which you must add maintenance costs.
But even at £568,000, cricket would need to be played on our park every day including Christmas Day for 16 years before breaking even.
Add to this the cost of grounds maintenance, management, and the community cost of loss of access to the space during summer and it is crystal clear that cricket has a cost to Islington, and a cost to the local community that we think far outweighs the calorific benefit gained by the 22 players taking part in any game.
This subsidy consumes a huge chunk of resources – financial and social capital, including access to green spaces — which could be funding other activities in Wray Crescent.
The community has not been consulted to see if it agrees with this as a priority.
What are the health benefits?
We’re told that one of the reasons Islington wants cricket in the field is for health benefits. Yet other sports deliver equal or more such benefit and are not being catered for.
Nutracheck provides the following data concerning the health benefits of cricket in contrast to other sports and activities seen/possible in Wray Crescent. (Rated in calories per hour).
|652||Soccer – competitive|
|387||Davina home workout DVD|
|290||Digging moderate effort|
|290||Walking grass track|
Given that jogging, running and circuit training all deliver more significant health benefits, why is Islington failing to invest in gym equipment or even a running track in the open space?
Why are we told outdoor gym equipment cannot be placed in the open space because of the cricket?
This is a shame, as by placing cricket in that space, Islington is seemingly choosing to make it impossible to for the local community to use that area for other fitness activities — certainly during a match, but also outside of the season. We have seen people using that space to jog and exercise all through winter, and those occupations should also be supported for public health. At a fraction of the cost.
What other options to use the space to boost community health have been explored?
How the park is really used
On June 9 at around 6:45 pm, a quick count of people in the park (we did not count the playground space) saw around 98 people in the smaller part of Wray Crescent Open Space and 32 (including two cricket teams) playing a game in the much larger part that has the name open space.
Why did the need of 32 people outweigh that of the rest of the community?
What work on alternatives?
What statistical analysis has been run to assess if this plan to make cricket the dominant activity in the park reflects the needs of the local community? What consultation has taken place? What alternatives have been explored?
Given the level of investment why not just move it?
Given this plan sees a huge investment (relative to the investment made in any other use of the park) in a new cricket square and an even larger sum dedicated to a new building to house the game, why on earth situate it in a space that isn’t big enough to play it?
After all, the decision to invest in both a new (non-environmentally friendly) cricket square and a new pavilion effectively means the entire cricket infrastructure is being replaced in Wray Crescent, so why not put it somewhere else with more space in which to host it, such as Caledonian Park?
Is this relevant to the local community?
There is no centuries old commitment to cricket in Wray Crescent. Cricket has only been played here since it became a park in c.1970. Prior to that it was houses, and before that it was fields.
If Islington, which is one of the most densely populated parts of the UK with a wide range of complex needs, really needs to have a cricket field, then why not put it somewhere that doesn’t impact other park users as much?
And what investment is being made to support other needs? In comparison to cricket, not much.
Lack of community involvement
This isn’t a case of not in my backyard, it’s a case of forcing a community to accept something that is completely irrelevant to its needs at a consequential cost to its access to precious green space.
There seems to have been no compromise or consultation with the wider community regarding this scheme, which seems to fly in the face of the evidently pressing local need for safe, well-resourced green spaces for one of the UK’s most densely packed urban populations.
While cricket is a pastime that has always been tolerated in Wray Crescent, it should be seen as one of many activities, rather than dominating the space across the summer months.
Finally, we must also ask why there is no clearly visible list showing when the field is booked for the pursuit, so local families can plan their own use of the space. This has always been a problem, and reflects the arrogance with which our community feels it is being treated.
We are not happy with the current proposals, and would ask they be revised in order to cater for a wider set of community-driven needs.