Your Local Guardian is today launching a campaign calling for an end to an unfair tax which has seen south London councils lose millions of pounds over the past 45 years funding a North London park.
Legislation passed by the Government in 1966 has meant a levy has been set since 1967-68 on all London local authority council tax bills forcing them to contribute funding to the Lee Valley Regional Park.
This year it will cost Sutton taxpayers £212,852, Croydon £370,774, Merton £214,792 and Wandsworth £368,506, to fund the 10,000 acre based in North London, Hertfordshire and Essex.
Equivalent contributions each year over almost half a century means the councils have lost out on millions of pounds of funding that could instead have been spent on schools, youth clubs and care homes, as well as improving our own parks.
On top of the levy, the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority (LVRPA) is inheriting £170m of taxpayer-funded Olympic venues and assets after this summer's Olympics, coming on top of billions of pounds in regeneration the region has received through London 2012.
Campaigning with a coalition of south London councils and MPs, this newspaper is calling for a change of legislation in Parliament that will mean south London councils will have to cease paying the unfair tax.
The No to Lee Valley Tax campaign argues our boroughs have already contributed enough to regenerating green spaces barely visited by our residents, that have been further transformed by the Olympic Games.
In these times of austerity every pound of taxpayers’ money must be spent fairly, and this historic tax can no longer be justified.
Sutton, Wandsworth, Croydon and Merton councils want to spend the money saved - currently £1.2m a year - on developing the borough’s own regional park - the Wandle Valley Regional Park (WVRP).
Last week Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said he would look at ending the tax if reelected.
He said: "We would need an act of parliament but I am certainly willing to look at it in the more immediate future.
"Investing in parks for outer London is a high priority."
Tom Brake, MP for Carshalton and Wallington, has already promised to raise support for the campaign in the House of Commons in an early day motion.
"I’m very pleased the Guardian series has thrown its weight behind the campaign," he said.
"Residents will feel they have been short-changed for the past 45 years by paying a levy to support the LVRP.
"It’s now time for the WVRP to get its fair share of funding."
Sutton Councillor Jayne McCoy, chairman of the WVRP development board, said no other regional regeneration initiative had ever continued for this length of time.
She said: "We want the unfair legislation on this precept changed.
"When funds are tight it is hard to stomach handing over large sums of money to a distant park whilst we’re struggling to find the cash to support our own regional park in south London.
"The Lee Valley Park Authority owns 20 per cent of the Olympic Park in Stratford and has already received millions of pounds from the Olympic Delivery Authority.
"They will also be handed the Olympic hockey, tennis and cycling facilities and the long term funding they bring with them.
"Sutton, Wandsworth, Merton and Croydon councils want to invest in an equal regional park for south London. "We’ve been able to invest thousands in it as a result of a levy reduction this year but if we can claw back the full £1.2m we pay towards Lee Valley every year it means jobs and growth where it’s needed most."
Leader of Wandsworth Council, Ravi Govindia, said: "We are fully behind this campaign.
"There is no logic at all in demanding a large subsidy from our council taxpayers for the upkeep of a regional park that few of them will have even heard of and even fewer will ever visit when that money could be better spent establishing a new Wandle Valley park on our own doorstep."
Councillor Stephen Alambritis, Merton Council leader, said: "Merton Council fully supports the call for an end to the Lee Valley Regional Park levy. "All councils are going through tough economic times and we want to see our council tax payers’ money invested in south London initiatives, including the Wandle Valley Regional Park."
And Mike Fisher, leader of Croydon Council, said his council contributions had risen 22 per cent in the past 13 years He said: "We send hundreds of thousands of pounds every year to help pay for the upkeep of a park that is miles from our borough.
"We said back in 2008 that we wanted this levy scrapped and our stance has not changed.
"We’d like to see the money we spend on a park in north London spent on our own parks and open spaces because they are so cherished by our residents."