Highgate’s Waterlow Park a ‘target for vandals’ if cuts go ahead

Highgate’s Waterlow Park - the “jewel in Camden’s crown” - could become blighted by overgrown flowerbeds and unsightly vandalism unless planned cuts are reversed, residents have warned.

Camden Council is slashing �500,000 from the borough’s parks and is in the midst of negotiations with park keepers over where the axe will fall.

But The Friends of Waterlow Park have warned chopping funds could sow serious damage.

The powerful resident-led group was set up in 1991 to restore the historic park to its former glory, after funding cutbacks saw the Highgate Hill park slip into stark decline,

Patricia Walby, a member of the group, who has lived in Bisham Gardens, Highgate, for 30 years, said: “Our great fear is that we will see a return to the deep cuts of the 1980s and 1990s and that the park will slip into a state of disrepair.

“We have an extremely good head gardener who is extremely dedicated, but we are nervous that our team will be replaced.

“What happened in the 1980s is that Camden changed its system to have roaming teams, but it was a disaster for the parks and open spaces, and this is exactly what we fear will happen again with this level of cuts.

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“We are also concerned about the assets in the park – the lodges and out buildings. Our greatest fear is that they might be hived off. But they would have a monumental battle from the people of Highgate if that is what they did.

“This is the jewel in Camden’s crown, a truly historic park. It must be maintained.”

Painting a bleak picture of the decline suffered by Waterlow Park during the last bout of cuts, Mrs Walby added: “The herbaceous beds were overgrown, the trees were poorly maintained and we lost some of the wonderful views that were memorialised in poetry.

“It became a frequent target for vandals, and the perimeter fence was often breached by people who would then light fires on the concrete. We don’t want to see a return to this.”

The grounds that make up Waterlow Park date back to the 15th century, and were bequeathed to the public by Sir Sidney Waterlow in 1889 as a “garden for the gardenless”.

Its beautiful vistas have been immortalised in the song Waterlow by 1970s group Mott the Hoople.

Camden Council could not confirm how many jobs would be lost or where.

A spokeswoman said: “We are fully committed to our parks and open spaces service, but as part of the savings programme we have to reduce the budget by �500,000 over the next three years.

“We are currently consulting with staff in the parks and open spaces service on the new structure and hope to have a new structure confirmed in December which will go live in April next year.”