Royal Parks Agency to rethink charging London Charity Softball League for playing

Until March this year the agency had allowed the 68-strong league to play in London's Hyde Park for free

London Charity Softball League is playing hardball on charges
London Charity Softball League is playing hardball on charges

The London Charity Softball League has forced a rethink from bosses at the royal parks on fees for playing matches in Hyde Park.

Members of the league, which comprises 68 charity teams, were angered when the Royal Parks Agency, which administers the capital’s eight royal parks, introduced a new booking and charging system for all of its sports pitches in March.

The fees amounted to £1 per player per game, whereas teams were previously able to play their matches in the park for free.

The league was mystified at the reasons for introducing the charges and in August it instructed lawyers to write to the Department for Culture Media and Sport, arguing that the charges were unlawful.

The Royal Parks Agency has now announced that it will drop the charges for all users while it carries out a consultation. A decision is expected by the end of the year.

The league began 10 years ago with nine teams from charities that have staff in London, but it has grown to comprise 68 teams.

The current champions are Scope, which beat Amnesty International in the league’s final last month.

Matches are played for fun and are an opportunity for charity staff from different sectors to get to know each other informally and potentially collaborate professionally, said Vanessa Furey, a league organiser who plays in the Action on Hearing Loss team.

"This is one of London’s last remaining green spaces where you could turn up and play sport for free," she said. "If ‘pay to play’ becomes an established practice in this area, we could find that the current charges are just the thin edge of the wedge. If you look at other royal parks, such as Regent’s Park, people are charged in the region of £50 or £60 per hour."

Furey said the league was "surprised but delighted" at the RPA’s decision to drop the charges while it consults users and said it hoped the decision would become permanent.

A statement from the RPA said it introduced a booking and charging system to manage demand and promote fair usage for all park users.

"Although some consultation about the charging regime was undertaken prior to its introduction, the Royal Parks Agency has taken the decision to suspend the charges and undertake wider consultation before reconsidering its decision," said Colin Buttery, director of parks at the RPA.

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