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ONCE the jewel in the crown of Coventry's parks department, it is by common consent a sorry sight today.

The War Memorial Park, built in 1921 to commemorate the dead of the Great War, has not been treated kindly by the passage of time.

Many of the 450 trees planted to remember Coventrians who gave their lives in two world wars are past their best. Much of the grassed area resembles mud flats.

Brass plaques honouring the fallen are rusted over, the names of those who gave their lives hardly recognisable.

The children's playground, the subject of an expensive facelift in 1989, is in a poor state. The splash pool, filled with rotting leaves, has been closed for years.

Pavilion buildings have their windows boarded against attack from vandals while refreshment kiosks are rarely open.

The 87ft memorial tower, constructed from white Portland Stone, is now a ghostly grey.

The only part of the War Memorial Park to enjoy substantial financial investment in recent times, it seems, is the huge park-and-ride facility fronting on to the Kenilworth Road.

Cllr Dave Edwards, chairman of the sport and parks policy team, puts it diplomatically: "The park is not up to the standard that we would require. Its beauty has been deteriorating for the past 20 years and we are determined to put matters right."

The latest refurbishment scheme, involving an estimated pounds 351,000 investment from the city council, is expected to win approval at a special meeting of the sport and parks policy team. The meeting, poignantly, is to be held in the dilapidated park pavilion.

Councillors will hear about the centrepiece of the new-look park - a children's water feature involving a series of inter-active jet sprays through which youngsters can run.

"It will be a unique experience. something really special as befits the city's premier park," said Cllr Edwards.

There will be better swings and tennis courts alongside a pounds 60,000 skateboarding area which is being designed with input from local youngsters. Protected by a 6ft fence, it will only open when parks supervisors are on duty.

The pavilion is to be rebuilt and will have a cafeteria with a paved area for chairs, tables and parasols during the summer.

An area for public entertainment is a possibility with weekly concerts by bands.

Members of the Rotary Club have been recruited to polish the remembrance plaques on the trees.

Security at the park is to be stepped up with the provision of a team of rangers - a modern-day equivalent of the old park keepers.

The rangers will double as gardeners and are to be given the task of returning the somewhat shabby flower beds to their best.

Cllr Edwards said: "For the first time the park will have its own team of gardeners who will also look after Spencer Park and Top Green. They will make sure these parks are in pristine condition."

Next year, if money allows, Cllr Edwards wants to fence off the memorial tower which has been subject to vandalism over the years.

There is also talk of completing the public footpath and jogging track which runs around part of the perimeter of the park.

More controversially, there are suggestions that the crown bowling green may be dug up and replaced by a crazy golf facility.

Shelters at the Leamington Road entrance and on the Kenilworth Road side of the park, haunts for "undesirable activity" by young people, are likely to be demolished.

The latest rescue package for the War Memorial Park is a scaled-down version of a pounds 1 million facelift unveiled by the council in 1997.

Dubbed "the people's playground" the scheme envisaged a boating lake, maze, events bowl for open-air performances, a garden centre, adventure playground and ornamental canal.

It never got off the drawing board. The failure to win lottery backing ensured that the bold plan would be quietly dropped.

Councillors were also left in no doubt that people living close to the park felt that the people's playground was not quite the right image for land dedicated to remembering the fallen.

In 1996 it was suggested that the park's refurbishment could form a bid for funding to the Millennium Commission. The Phoenix Initiative, in the city centre, was chosen instead.

Cllr Edwards remains confident that the latest proposal for improving Coventry's best-known park will win public backing.

There is no doubt in his mind that it will happen. "We have soaked up all the cash availability in the parks budget in order to do this," he said.

"We have to remember that this is a park for people who sacrificed their lives and we must ask whether they would enjoy what we are proposing. I think the answer is yes, they would want to see youngsters giggling and enjoying themselves."

Others are sceptical. Cllr Ken Taylor, deputy leader of the council Conservative group, says he is not holding his breath. "We have heard it all before. Previous promises haven't been delivered and I don't expect this will be either."

Cllr Taylor, whose Earlsdon ward covers part of the park, added: "It's not going to happen because the cost will be enormous. They come up with these ideas, go to consultants and then come back and say they can't do it because they can't afford it.

"The state of the War Memorial Park is a disgrace. It should be the pride of the city. It's far from that."

He suspects the timing of the latest package may be connected with Labour's desire to generate favourable publicity in the run-up to the local government elections in May.

This, according to Dave Edwards, is "rubbish".

He added: "The Conservatives have known about this plan for over 12 months. It has been discussed in public, there is no secrecy.

"It may annoy them that we are putting together a major scheme for the city's premier park, but there is definitely no electoral gimmick about it."
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Dale, Paul
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Apr 10, 2000
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