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Project Brighton: Councillor Gill Mitchell speaks to Latest about the future of our parks and open spaces in the city
Ask Brighton & Hove residents to list the council services they value the most and you’ll almost certainly find parks and open spaces features highly. Parks are among the council’s most used public assets providing people of all ages with areas for play, relaxation and exercise. In short – they are critical to the health and well-being of residents living in the city.
So these same residents are often shocked to learn that providing and managing parks is not on the list of ‘statutory duties’ for local authorities. As a result, when central government funding gets cut, and councils are forced to focus on essential and front line services, parks and open spaces are among the most vulnerable services when savings are being made.
But councils are fighting back! Local authorities up and down the country are exploring new and innovative ways to fund parks and opens spaces with reducing budgets. Councillor Gill Mitchell, chair of the council’s environment, transport sustainability committee explains how Brighton & Hove’s city’s parks and open spaces could evolve in the future and how residents are playing a vital role in shaping that change.
“By 2020, funding for Brighton & Hove’s parks service is set to have reduced from £4.7m to just £3.4m which means we have to radically change the way we manage our parks and open spaces.
“That’s why last autumn we launched our ‘Big Conversation’ – a citywide consultation which invited park users to come forward with suggestions as to how we could attract income to maintain our parks and open spaces in the city. Residents were asked for their spending priorities, their thoughts on how to manage with less, and ideas to create new revenue such as cafes, sponsors, events and charges. Following a fantastic response (3,500, the highest ever received to a consultation of this type) we are now developing a new open spaces strategy.”
The strategy asks the council to look at a range of policies and actions to put parks on a firm footing in order to maintain facilities for the future. It highlights funding opportunities and the need to build on ideas that came out of the consultation. These include exploring the establishment of a Parks Foundation to lead on fundraising, creating more income for parks (working in partnership with businesses and potential sponsors, and other organisations such as the Football Association and lottery funders), developing other partnerships to care for open spaces (such as with colleges and universities, the Wildlife Trust, Ramblers, Biosphere partners and the South Downs National Park Authority).
Over the next 10 years the strategy also calls on the council to:
Develop a tree strategy
(In the Big Conversation, respondents identified trees as the most important asset in parks and gardens for future funding)
Enable members of the public to cut their own grass verges
(87% of respondents said the council should support residents cutting grass verges with their own tools)
Build on the success of volunteers by creating more opportunities and making sure they get the support they need
(Most of the city’s 38 Friends of Parks volunteer groups told the council they need more support to continue their work and more than half of respondents to the Big Conversation (58%) expressed an interest in helping out in parks)
Introduce more natural play features (74.2% of respondents tended to agree, or strongly agreed, to replacing some play equipment from children’s playgrounds with natural play features)
“Playgrounds remain one of the biggest challenges for the city’s parks service. Because of the success of securing £2m of funds for playgrounds in 2009, a large amount of the city’s playground equipment will need replacing over the next five to 10 years, at a cost of another £2m,” said Councillor Mitchell.
“There has been some success so far, with playground equipment provided recently in Manor Road, Saltdean Oval and Hove Lagoon through public donations and planning contributions.
“Work to put the strategy’s proposals into practice is starting this year. Councillors will also take into account the funding challenges and suggestions for parks as they set the council’s budget in February.”