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Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Formula E car racing for Battersea Park - but why not send it to SE19?

Attempting to cycle through Battersea Park a week or two back, was puzzled to find way impeded by huge teams of men and machines resurfacing the wide road that rings the park.

They were going at it with such vigour, and with such precision, that it made one wonder: why here, on this park road, which is banned to normal traffic and is perfectly adequate for the runners and cyclists and skaters who normally use it. Surely there were plenty of potholed roads in the borough of Wandsworth  that were  much more in need of re-surfacing?
Peace of Battersea Park to be shattered by high speed electric racing cars
This wide, verdant road circling Battersea
 Park is soon to host some much speedier
 action. Come June, the runners, skaters and
 cyclists who flock here will be ousted by
 140mph Formula E electric racing cars

A letter in the Evening Standard brought sudden enlightenment: Wandsworth council has given permission for the PArk to be used for the finals of the Formula E Motor racing season, at the end of June 2015.

The letter-writer was complaining about the impact on  local residents and park users, as well as London's pollution levels.

I immediately prepared myself to go into full righteous indignation and anger mode: how dare this Tory council yet again put the interests of its corporate buddies above those of its own  residents, and the environment of a large area of south west London?

Psyching myself up to unleash a verbal onslaught on the petrol heads of Wandsworth,  I looked up Formula E and felt a bit stupid. This (as you will probably know or  have guessed) is a sort of Formula 1 but for cars powered by electricity.

So there you go - Wandsworth is backing an initiative which should raise the profile of "green" electric vehicles, and pocketing a fair wad of cash at the same time.

But again, it's not so simple. As the letter writer pointed out, the big race will involve hundreds of (non-electric-powered) trucks, vans and cars making thousands of journeys into and out of the park to prepare the circuit and the viewing areas.

The park itself will be closed to the public for at least two full days.

On race day, there will be 30,000 spectators making their way to the park along roads already badly overused and compromised by all the roadworks contingent on the Nine Elms  re-development.

Locals who love this park are already used to finding it wholly or partly closed down for various events. Several big city financial organisations book the whole park for their summer sports days and running events; large tracts of the park are often closed off for film companies. Each year the whole park is sealed off to all except ticket holders for the big firework display.

So, nothing new, but just another, even more annoying thing for those of us who simply want to stroll through this lovely peoples' park without the risk of being flattened by a 140mph electric racing car.  And what about the Buddhist monks and devotees trying to make their way to the Peace Pagoda on the north side of the park? Presumably they don't make the wailing noise of their petrol-fuelled brothers. The race is scheduled for 27 or 28 June, potentially one of the best weekends of the summer.

WHy not revive Crystal Palace race-track for FormulaE instead of Battersea Park?
Back in the 60s, world-famous GP drivers used
 to thunder past the remains of Crystal Palace
 and the BBC TV transmitter. Why not
restore this track for Formula E?
Also - I wonder if the Formula E People considered holding the race at  another south London location, more given to sports of all types and in dire need of revival? I mean Crystal Palace, which still has a twisty little racing track that up until the mid-1960s was a regular location for all types of car and motor cycle racing events. It must be about the same size as the Battersea PArk track, but it has the advantage of going around a large and distinctly under-used National Sports Centre, which would not be disrupted by such an event as it has full access via bridges. It's actually a better, more scenic track, specifically designed for this sort of sport, and it is not (as is the case at Battersea) almost entirely lined by avenues of mature plane trees.

As a kid I was often taken there by my sister and her successive boyfriends; I remember clearly seeking all the stars of the era (Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Bruce McLaren, amongst others) throwing what looked like family saloons around this cute little track at unbelievable speeds. Then they did the same thing even faster in their formula 2 Lotuses and Coopers.

That track certainly would need re-surfacing and probably widening as well - but given the collapse of the latest Crystal Palace regeneration proposals, surely this could have been an opportunity to revive the fast-disintegrating facilities of this famous site?

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