A ground-breaking scheme, funded by the National Lottery, will help Newcastle City Council (NCC) to develop and test a new funding, management and maintenance model for 33 of the city's parks and allotments (over 400 hectares of land).
Such a proposal could see Newcastle's parks and green spaces remain the property of the city council but transfer day-to-day responsibility for funding, managing and maintaining them to a new charitable trust whose sole purpose is to manage the parks.
The scheme has been designed to help tackle the financial challenges facing the local authority, where park budgets have been dramatically reduced. Parks are not a statutory service for local authorities however many, like Newcastle City Council, recognise their vital importance to the health and well-being of local communities.
Newcastle City Council is launching a consultation on the detail of the plans but if implemented, the charitable trust would independently manage approximately 33 parks across the city and possibly over 50 hectares of allotment land. It would explore new ways of best using the current facilities, space and buildings to bring in revenue for the successful running of the parks, without undermining free access to parks that everyone enjoys. The City Council will also explore whether an endowment could be put in place to support the Trust.
The £237,500 for testing this approach has been awarded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), which in partnership with the Big Lottery Fund has invested more than £12million to restore and upgrade Newcastle's historic parks. This further funding will help protect that past investment and further test and develop proposals which emerged from an earlier HLF-funded Rethinking Parks project delivered by the National Trust in partnership with Sheffield City Council.
In its recent report, State of UK Public Parks 2016, HLF outlined the financial challenges facing parks in light of local authority budget reductions and called on local and national government, communities and businesses to explore innovative ways to fund and maintain public parks. This project will enable the in depth testing of one such approach.
This news comes as the Communities and Local Government Select Committee Inquiry into the future of parks published its report. The report outlines the considerable challenges facing local authorities in light of reduced budgets and pressures to increase housing supply and recommends:
- Councils should publish strategies recognising the value of parks in context of wider local objectives such as health and wellbeing
- Innovation and transition funding is needed to develop management models and funding sources required to sustain parks in some council areas
- There should be a mechanism for evaluating, benchmarking and sharing best practice from across the UK and internationally
Newcastle City Council is working with the National Trust to deliver this project, drawing on its considerable expertise and experience of looking after special places for public benefit. HLF will require Newcastle City Council to share its findings so that other local authorities learn from this pioneering work.
Ros Kerslake, chief executive of HLF, said: "Having invested more than £850m of National Lottery players' money in ensuring over 850 of the UK's historic parks are in good shape, we welcome the recommendations of this report which puts their future front and centre of strategic local priorities.
"Our State of UK Public Parks 2016 report revealed the immense financial pressures facing our public parks. But it also revealed just how important these spaces are to the health and well-being of local communities and they need to be protected. This National Lottery investment is giving Newcastle City Council the tools to explore a creative approach to securing its parks for everyone."
Cllr Kim McGuinness, cabinet member for culture and communities at Newcastle City Council, said "The city council is delighted that HLF has made this funding award, which will help us to move forward with our plan to transform the way our parks are run. It's also really good timing that this announcement is made as we are about embark on our wide ranging consultation with residents and park users in Newcastle about the future of parks.
"This parks engagement programme is a path finding project that will enable the City Council to work closely with residents, community groups and businesses to help shape the future of Newcastle's parks. The State of UK Public Parks report rightly highlights the great difficulties we face in sustaining and prioritising our parks and green spaces in this climate of local authority budget cuts. We're committed in Newcastle to moving with the times and modernising. This is a pioneering opportunity for the city as we seek to create a charitable trust model to run and protect our parks and ensure they remain in public ownership at a time when austerity has made our current operating model unsustainable."
The National Trust has invested a similar amount of funding into the programme as they work closely on an advisory level with the City Council.
National Trust quote Harry Bowell, National Trust director for the north said: "This is a really exciting opportunity for Newcastle to safeguard its parks and greenspaces, and the many benefits they provide, forever, and we are delighted to be supporting the city and its communities on this trailblazing project."
"We are lending our experience and skills to help ensure the proposals for the new independent charity are financially sustainable and practical whilst also protecting free public access and the wider benefits parks currently deliver to local communities."
"This is an important moment for local people and business to get involved in shaping the future of the city's parks. We would encourage people to feed into the council consultation."
The money awarded by HLF will be used to: construct a business case and legal structure for the Trust to operate the Council's parks and allotments; and if implemented, put the governance in place and deliver training to the new trustees, staff and volunteers.
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