Over the last couple of decades, budget restraints within Sevenoaks District Council (SDC) have resulted in park and lake maintenance being reduced to a minimum and a failure to ensure that other organisations, such as water and highways authorities, faced up to their responsibilities towards the lakes. This left the park badly neglected, the lakes silted up and clogged with fallen trees and branches and a general air of neglect and dilapidation. The wildfowl population now consists of numerous interbred mallard ducks and a number of Canada geese.
Faced with this state of affairs, the Bradbourne Residents Association (BRA) started to look at what it might itself do to improve the situation. In an attempt to gain an idea of the scale of the task, a certain amount of research was undertaken.
Approaches were made to various structural and civil engineers with a view preparing reports on the condition of the lakes and footpaths, together with recommendations for repairs and remedial work. In particular were the matters of sluices, dredging, oil/water separation and other aspects relating to the lakes themselves. Similarly, a number of tree surgeons were contacted to assess what was necessary in that respect.
However, it soon became apparent that the scale of what had to be done would require considerable funding and was beyond the management capabilities of BRA alone. Discussions took place with design consultants, who might be prepared to manage a restoration project, taking it from the funding application stage through to the eventual restoration. BRA registered itself with the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) in preparation for an application for the necessary funding.
A restoration project
Both in terms of an application to HLF and for its own considerations, BRA undertook further research, before the aims of the project could be formulated. This included:
- A survey of current users of the park. This demonstrated not only that it was a very popular leisure resource but also that people came from considerable distances to use it. The survey revealed much concern about the obvious neglect and strong support for restoration.
- Approaches to various potential users of the park, e.g. Knole Academy, Valence School, Hadlow College, to ascertain their possible interest and involvement.
- Consultation with those responsible for the renovation of Dunorlan Park in Tunbridge Wells, an HLF project.
- Further to the survey of current users, consideration of amenities, infrastructure, etc., that might be incorporated into plans for a restored park. Fencing, benches, waste-bins, duck feed dispensers, a restored boating lake, a park cafe, picnic benches, toilets, improved facilities for wheelchairs, etc.
- Approaches to various organisations regarding environmental, geological, hydrological and biological factors essential in a restoration of this sort.
In addition, BRA organised regular working parties from its membership, to tackle more straight forward tasks involved in reversing the park’s neglect. These were well supported and proved very successful, giving the park a less over-grown and much tidier appearance. These working parties will continue to be a feature of park renovation and approaches from anyone willing to join in are always welcome.
Taking account of the survey and research, a set of Provisional Aims for a Conservation Project, involving renovations and improvements was drawn up.
The last 12 months
There remained a serious problem. Given the matter of silting, no grant funding application could go ahead without first establishing responsibility for what flows into the lakes and how it is controlled. Numerous attempts had been made by BRA to get Thames Water, Kent Highways and SDC together to get some agreement on this. However, perseverance works! The breakthrough finally came with a meeting held on 11 March 2014 attended by representatives from Thames Water, Kent Highways, SDC and BRA. Key points agreed were that Thames Water was responsible for the Silt traps in the Lake inflow, would empty them and monitor them for future emptying, Kent Highways would clear its gullies twice a year and SDC would undertake various actions regarding maintenance and managing the Lakes as an asset.
A meeting was held on 8 July 2014 attended by a representative of the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), and by SDC and BRA. Its purpose was to explain the application process for HLF grants. One key point that was made clear was that the applicant had to be the owner of the property, in this case SDC. Another was that BRA’s HLF application registration had expired.
Matthew Dickins, District Councillor for Sevenoaks Northern, the ward in which the Park and Lakes are found, was a driving force in support of those two meetings, leading to a further meeting held on 16 September 2014, attended by representatives of SDC and BRA, at which an SDC officer was appointed to manage an application to HLF or any other appropriate funding authority, and to work with BRA in this respect.
Inter alia, SDC also reported that Thames Water had emptied the silt traps and were monitoring them. As regards dredging, it is understood that the results of testing show that silt waste from the Lakes would not present a disposal hazard, which is very good news.
Volunteer working parties have continued over the summer and during the year the BRA has organised a number of community events, taking advantage of the wonderful setting the Parks offer. These range from a visit by Father Christmas and an Easter Egg Hunt to Story Time in the Park for young children. With SDC now leading a restoration project, it was really pleasing to see this confirmed with its backing for the inaugural meeting at the Lakes of the Sevenoaks Scale Model Boat Club in mid November. Already therefore, there are indications as to how this valuable public asset, once restored, can again benefit the community.
BRA representatives will continue to work in tandem with SDC to decide how to take the project forward. A further stakeholder meeting shall take place in January by which time the vision, cost and funding options will hopefully have been determined in readiness for grant applications to be submitted by April, subject to grant body application schedules.