The Surrey Comet has launched a campaign calling for an end to a tax that has seen south London councils pay millions 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 Kingston taxpayers £181,350, Sutton £212,852, Croydon £370,774, Merton £214,792 and Wandsworth £368,506, to fund the 10,000 acre park 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 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).
Backing the Surrey Comet's campaign, leader of Kingston Council Councillor Derek Osbourne referred to the tax as "a product of Margaret Thatcher's madness".
He said: "We have complained about Lee Valley for years. Contributing to Wandle Park would make more sense.
"I see the benefit of having a park in east London where more greenery is needed, but to make that a levy on the whole of London is unfair - especially when hardly anyone from Kingston goes there."
Last week Mayor of London Boris Johnson said he would lobby for an end to the tax if re-elected.
Mr Johnson 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."
MP for Richmond Park, which covers north Kingston, Zac Goldsmith, said: "I don't believe this historic tax can still be justified and am happy to support the campaign."
UNITED IN OPPOSITION
A number of south London borough politicians have united behind the No to Lee Valley Tax campaign.
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.
Councillor Jayne McCoy, of Sutton Council, chairman of the WVRP development board, said no other regional regeneration initiative had ever continued for this length of time.
She said: "When funds are tight it is hard to stomach handing over 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."
Councillor Ravi Govindia, Wandsworth Council leader, said: "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."
Mike Fisher, leader of Croydon Council, said his council contributions had risen 22 per cent in the past 13 years.
He said: "We said back in 2008 that we wanted this levy scrapped and our stance has not changed."
THE VIEW FROM LEE VALLEY
A Lee Valley Regional Park Authority spokesman said: "We attract people from every single London borough and in total, 5m people visit our park each year. An average of 15,000 people a year visit the park from each of the four south London boroughs of Croydon, Sutton, Merton and Wandsworth.
"We have cut the levy on Londoners for the second year running - and it now stands at £1.24 a person a year, which will pay the running costs of four Olympic venues in legacy, as well as a host of other world class sports venues and award winning parklands.
"Our sports venues and open spaces are of a world class standard that benefit the region and the whole nation. Lee Valley Athletics Centre for example, is the training base for half of the GB Athletics Team, which will carry the hopes of the country at this year's London Olympic Games. The park is home to eight sites of special scientific interest (SSSI), a title given only to the country's very best wildlife sites.
"Last month we ran our second Schools Festival at the Lee Valley White Water Centre with hundreds of children from every London borough rafting the same white water course the world's best athletes will tackle in the Olympic Games and for free.
"Our diverse work, from nature conservation, education programmes to sport is unique and varied. The park is a genuine regional asset providing value for money while making a positive contribution to the capital's environment and all its communities."
* The 26-mile long park runs from the Thames to Ware in Hertfordshire, through areas such as Hackney, Tottenham, Enfield, Stratford, Tower Hamlets, Walthamstow, Cheshunt and Hoddesdon.
Much of the southern half of the park has been developed to form the Olympic Park for the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.
It is run by the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority (LVRPA), established through the Lee Valley Regional Park Act 1966 to help regenerate what was then one of the most deprived parts of England.
LVRPA has succeeded. It is now time to allow other regional parks to flourish.
WANDLE VALLEY REGIONAL PARK
The park boundaries stretch along the river Wandle from Battersea and Putney by the Thames, down through Wandsworth, and Merton, to Sutton and Croydon, where it currently ends near Purley.
With a vision on improving the environment of the Wandle and surrounding areas, Sutton, Croydon, Merton and Wandsworth Councils have come together with a vision to provide a sustainable regional park in the Wandle Valley.
HOW CAN THE CAMPAIGN BE WON?
For south London councils to stop paying the levy, a change of legislation will have to be made in Parliament.
There are two routes that could allow the necessary change to take place.
With Government support, an amendment stopping the tax for south London councils can be attached to another related bill coming through Parliament in the coming months.
Or an MP can set out legislation to change the law through a Private Members Bill (PMB).
Each parliamentary session 20 backbench MPs, chosen through a ballot, have the right to introduce a bill that if approved by Parliament, will become law.