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Have your say about the future of Newcastle’s Parks

ByCharley Williams

Jan 6, 2017

Over the next three-months Newcastle City Council will be inviting people to provide their views, ideas and opinions about the city’s principal, countryside and neighbourhood parks and greenspaces.

The engagement programme looks to help shape and develop the Council’s future vision for parks. The consultation begins in February and runs through until April.

In 2017, the Council is having to rethink many of its services including parks.  Over the past seven-years, Newcastle has seen its parks’ budget reduced by over 90%; and with other avenues of funding being few and far between, finding new ways of financing the city’s parks and greenspaces is essential.

But the Council is committed to improve the way it delivers parks. It is committed to keeping parks in public ownership; free to use; and it wants to fully involve local people, community groups and partners in the future delivery of the service.

The proposed consultation and engagement programme was high on the agenda at a recent meeting between Councillor Kim McGuinness, the City Council’s cabinet member for culture and communities and members of the city’s Parks Forum that took place on Tuesday evening.

The Council’s innovative, forward thinking has been rewarded with the City being recognised as a pioneering ‘pathfinding’ local authority by organisations such as the National Trust, in its consideration of proposals to remodel the structure of its parks.

The Council wants the views and opinions from a cross section of the community about the prospect of transferring the operation, delivery and maintenance of a large proportion of the city’s parks and greenspaces to a Charitable Trust. A nationwide first, for a project of this scale and magnitude.

The engagement and consultation programme aims to attract responses from residents, volunteer groups, businesses, stakeholders, schools, universities and other key regional partners.

Parks are so much more than just a place to feed the ducks and have a kick-about.  They play a vital role, for young and old, in the leisure, recreational, health, wellbeing, heritage, environment, social and economic status of the local community.

In Newcastle, the City Council is committed to developing an innovative partnership between health and its parks estate, exploiting the health and wellbeing benefits that the city’s green spaces bring to residents.

If implemented, the charitable trust would manage approximately 35 parks across the City and over 50 hectares of allotment land. They 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. (A full list of the parks, greenspaces and descriptions can be provided on request).

Councillor Kim McGuinness, said: “This is a positive and exciting new journey for Newcastle’s parks and sees us lead the way nationally in trying to find a solution and develop the best possible response to the enforced government budget cuts that are threatening the deterioration and even closure of some council parks up and down the country.

“In Newcastle we’re lucky to boast some of the most beautiful and respected parks in the United Kingdom.  It’s unsurprising that they are so loved by our residents and community groups. We’re committed to preserving and protecting our parks so they can continue to be free for all to access and enjoy. This brave new approach – acknowledged, informed and supported by the National Trust – will not only ensure the Council retains ownership of the parks and greenspaces; but it also protects jobs and continues the culture of partnership working with volunteers and community groups that has become an important part of our current groundwork. This reaffirms our commitment to find a solution to protect and finance the city’s parks, and to rule out privatisation.

“Creating a charitable trust to manage our parks and giving them independence from the council gives them the freedom to explore alternative funding sources to help progress the sites for years to come. Also, within the proposed model, any profit made within our parks can be ploughed directly back into our parks.

“It is crucial that we can understand and respond to public feeling about the parks proposal so we will be engaging widely with members of the public on our consultation. I’d encourage people to take part in this consultation and have their say. We look forward to working with the community to develop and nurture these plans for the better of the city.”

Harry Bowell, National Trust Director of the North, said: “Over the past two years the National Trust and partners have been exploring new ways that others can manage and fund public parks that protect – and enhance – the fundamental benefits they provide to millions of people.

“The ‘Parks Trust’ model has great potential to deliver a huge range of health, economic and environmental benefits. This approach recognises the valuable role parks play in keeping us healthy in body and mind; in slowing the flow of water in otherwise hard urban landscapes; helping to clean air and regulate temperature; providing crucial homes for wildlife; and as a vital part of our nation’s culture and history.

“We are excited to be working alongside Newcastle City Council as they seek to secure a sustainable future for its wonderful parks and green spaces through a newly created, independent Parks Trust. It is great to see, at the heart of this innovative project, a strong vision to protect parks for generations to come. We hope in due course to help Newcastle share – and inspire other local authorities with – its pioneering work.”

The council’s parks and greenspace engagement programme will start on February 13th and run through until April 21st. Once the consultation has gone live people can find out more details by visiting the ‘Let’s Talk Newcastle’ website www.letstalknewcastle.co.uk and answering the questions provided.

There will also be regular events where people can directly deliver their views, ideas and opinions about the City’s parks. Please look out for social media announcements via @NewcastleCityCouncil (Face Book) and @NewcastleCC (Twitter) #NewcastleParkTalk.

Alternatively people can contact Joe Hogan, Communities Officer on joe.hogan@newcastle.gov.uk (about the engagement programme) and Farah Hussain, Senior Specialist / Advisor (for all other Parks project related enquiries) on farah.hussain@newcastle.gov.uk