Are storm clouds gath­er­ing over our parks?

The Chronicle - - Front Page - Re­porters By TONY HEN­DER­SON and HAN­NAH GRA­HAM­i­tymir­

D-DAY is loom­ing for New­cas­tle’s parks whose fu­tures will be de­cided next week.

Coun­cil­lors are set to vote on plans to hand over run­ning of the much-loved open spa­ces to a sep­a­rate char­i­ta­ble trust, which will be able to raise its own cash to keep the ser­vices go­ing.

The new trust would cover 32 parks and more than 60 al­lot­ment sites. The coun­cil would con­tinue to own the land.

Since the idea was last considered by coun­cil­lors in July, the pro­posal has been al­tered to ex­clude re­cre­ation sites.

A char­i­ta­ble trust would be able to bid for grants from pots of cash which are not avail­able to a di­rectly coun­cil-run or­gan­i­sa­tion.

It would also be able to raise money through other means, in­clud­ing paid-for events in parks, ‘pay to play’ at­trac­tions like minigolf, cor­po­rate spon­sor­ship and even eco-buri­als.

At the July meet­ing, Lib Dem op­po­si­tion coun­cil­lors raised fears the move could lead to a “change in ethos” of the parks ser­vice, and raised con­cerns that money might be made through things like car park­ing, which would con­trib­ute to air pol­lu­tion is­sues.

But the coun­cil claims the plan rep­re­sents a “rad­i­cal and pi­o­neer­ing” ap­proach to an “im­pos­si­ble sit­u­a­tion” cre­ated by cen­tral gov­ern­ment cuts.

Parks bud­gets have been slashed by 91% over the past seven years, from £2.589m in 2010/11 to less than £1m this year.

An ini­tial £9.5m will be re­quired to set up the trust, but coun­cil of­fi­cers in­sist it should be­come self-sus­tain­ing af­ter 10 years, sav­ing up to £110m for the city. Al­though the re­port says the coun­cil might have to of­fer an en­dow­ment of ex­tra cash be­yond that £9.5m, this money would have to be re­paid.

Coun Kim McGuin­ness, cab­i­net mem­ber for cul­ture and com­mu­ni­ties, said: “This pro­posal is about pro­tect­ing parks and al­lot­ments for the peo­ple of the city, be­cause these ser­vices would oth­er­wise risk clo­sure as a re­sult of aus­ter­ity.

“New­cas­tle has a proud tra­di­tion of pro­vid­ing ac­ces­si­ble green spa­ces, dat­ing back to the cre­ation of our first mu­nic­i­pal space, Leazes Park, in 1873, and the pro­posed new ar­range­ments would legally pro­tect the parks for pub­lic use and make them self-suf­fi­cient and open to all for years to come.

“The strength of the pub­lic re­sponse to the con­sul­ta­tion process demon­strated just how pas­sion­ately the peo­ple of New­cas­tle feel about the preser­va­tion of our parks, al­lot­ments and open spa­ces.

“Faced with im­pos­si­ble choices, the coun­cil is propos­ing a rad­i­cal and pi­o­neer­ing new model that can both sus­tain our green spa­ces and take them to the next level in terms of pub­lic ac­cess and en­joy­ment.”

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, the “core pur­pose” and qual­ity of the parks will be main­tained by the char­i­ta­ble na­ture of the body run­ning them, as well as a num­ber of coun­cil con­di­tions on the lease of the land.

If the plans are ap­proved, the hunt for a chair­per­son and a board of trus­tees will be­gin in Jan­uary and the new trust could take con­trol by the end of 2018.

The Na­tional Trust is supporting the move and Harry Bow­ell, its di­rec­tor of the North, said: “The Na­tional Trust has been work­ing closely with New­cas­tle City Coun­cil to ad­vise on the pro­posed model for an in­de­pen­dent New­cas­tle Parks Char­i­ta­ble Trust. We’re con­fi­dent if it’s given the go ahead, the pub­lic ben­e­fit of New­cas­tle’s parks and green spa­ces will be se­cured.”

The vote will take place on Mon­day, Novem­ber 20.

Coun Kim McGuin­ness

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