Green Backyard – Working Within The System

07:18 Monday 20th August 2012
Peterborough Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

ANDY GALL: After months of campaigning, it looks as though a new home could have been found for the Green Backyard. The community project has been told it will have to move away from its home near Apex House, and be given a new location. And after meetings with Peterborough City Council, the owners say one suggestion may be to move the green space onto the top of a multi-storey car park. Sophie Antonelli is from the Green Backyard, and is on the line. So what did you think of Marco’s suggestion of it being put on a multi-storey car park?
SOPHIE ANTONELLI: (LAUGHS) Well he actually made that suggestion to me a few months ago at a conference, and I thought he was .. I didn’t think he was joking, but I didn’t think he was suggesting it as an alternative, as in, we move from where we are. If we were going to be staying where we are, at the Green Backyard, it would be an amazing project. I think it would be quite exciting to have a green roof on one of our car parks. But I don’t think it would be a sensible location for our primary base as a community garden. There’s a few things like disabled access. It might be a bit difficult wheel-barrowing compost up there, that kind of thing. So yes, it’s not one that we’re desperate to take him up on.
ANDY GALL: Can you just give us a bit of a background to this story as well, to the reasons why you ended up where you were, and the kind of understanding you had with the Council.
SOPHIE ANTONELLI: Yes, of course. So we’ve been on the land that we’ve been using for three and a half years. The first little bit of that was governed by an interim agreement we had with the Council. And then we were issued a three year license, and it was only actually for three years because we always understood that the land may be used as part of the South Bank development. But when they introduced the license, they did so because they said it was the best possible site for us to be on, and that they wouldn’t make a final decision on what would happen with the land until after that three year period. So that’s why we’re in the conversations we are in now. So we always knew that we were on a short-term license, and that we may well have to have these conversations, that it wasn’t a done deal, if you see what I mean. So that’s what’s led up to us having these meetings.
ANDY GALL: And it is quite a valuable piece of land isn’t it? The paradox being, although it was in a bit of a state of disrepair, the land itself would reach a pretty penny if it was put to private developers.
SOPHIE ANTONELLI: Yes. I guess it’s not the best time for development in terms of the economy, but there’s no denying that it’s a great spot. It’s central. I’m not a developer, but I think it would be a difficult piece of land to develop in isolation, because there’s power cables as you well know, running underneath. There’s water mains. It’s got the railway backing onto it. It’s got two main roads on two of the sides of the land. So it would be tricky, but yes. It’s very central.
ANDY GALL: I’m sure an estate agent could shine that story up a little bit.
SOPHIE ANTONELLI: (LAUGHS) Yes. Quite possibly.
ANDY GALL: But hundreds of people have written in to the Council, haven’t they, asking them to reconsider their decision. What have you made of the reponse from the public in recent months?
SOPHIE ANTONELLI: We’ve been completely overwhelmed. The campaign that happened was put together and run by supporters, by independent people who felt really strongly that they wanted to see the project stay. There’s nearly 1,200 people who signed the petition on-line. And then we’ve had hundreds and hundreds of names, hand-written names, on petitions handed in. So it’s probably pushing 1,500, 1,600, 1,700, which is just incredible in quite a short space of time. It’s not just people signing petitions either. So many people have said to me that that’s all people are talking about at the moment. They really care. And I think the reason for that is because we are community-run, and people see what the project’s achieved as partly their achievements, as they should, because it’s thousands of people’s work. So yes, we’ve been really really heartened, and it justifies why we think it’s such an important project.
ANDY GALL: If your work on Oundle Road has been done, and you’ve achieved this wonderful space, could you not then move on to another area of Peterborough that might be a little bit run down and tired, and do the same thing there?
SOPHIE ANTONELLI: That’s a really good question. I don’t think our work is done. No way. This is just the beginning. You look at other cities, other places where they have really successful sustainability projects, and they’ve done incredible things, completely off-grid community centres, community-run food cafes where they’re selling local produce. All of these things would be achievable to us if we had a long-term lease, wherever we are. And that’s where we’re aiming for, to run a sustainable enterprise, and to draw in a lot more people to run some accredited training programmes. There’s the CAT centre in Wales. They set up on an abandoned slate mine in the ’70s, all volunteers, and they’re now running masters programmes. They have the largest array of sustainable technology in the world, and now they’re internationally recognised.
ANDY GALL: So what’s the situation as it is now then? Marco suggested putting it on top of a multi-storey car park. Where are we now?
SOPHIE ANTONELLI: I should just say that that wasn’t the only place they suggested. They’ve been looking at other sites. But they came along to the site last Wednesday, and we were really encouraged by how supportive they were of what we’d done as a project, and their willingness to look at options, including the option to stay where we were, where we are at the moment. They recognised that the project has been really successful, that we need a long-term lease. Whether that’s .. ideally where we are, or if that’s absolutely not possible, somewhere else. And they’re willing to look at different options for that. But they are talking about finding ways to stay where we are at the moment. So what we’re going to be doing is spending the next few months putting a proposal together, a really serious business plan, covering the next ten to fifteen years, and saying why we think that what we would like to do on that land is the best thing for Peterborough. And we’re going to do that in conjunction with them, so that we’re all singing from the same page.