Rethink demand over plans to cut parks budget to zero

June 30 2017

PEOPLE in Fishponds are being urged to keep up the pressure on the city council to continue to maintain the area’s parks.

PEOPLE in Fishponds are being urged to keep up the pressure on the city council to continue to maintain the area’s parks.

The council’s stated aim is to reduce the citywide parks budget to zero by 2019. It wants volunteers to take on responsibility for the parks - but local groups say this is unrealistic.

The volunteers say they will do what they can but have not got the resources or expertise to take on all services.

There are fears that without council staff to do basic maintenance such as mowing, and regular safety checks on play equipment, many parks could close.

A petition set up by Bristol Parks Forum on June 17 calling on the council to drop the ‘cost-neutral’ proposal attracted more than 1,000 signatures in its first week.

Forum members were meeting the council’s deputy mayor Councillor Asher Craig on June 24, after the Voice went to print, to seek a way forward.

Councillor Craig told the Voice that other options were being considered in order to make the £4.4m savings required.

The plans could see the parks passed to a charitable trust, set up with the help of the National Trust (NT).

“We have have had some early but successful discussions with the National Trust looking at a new model for delivering parks,” said Cllr Craig.

Bristol has  28 large parks, including Eastville and Vassalls, but the council also looks after more than 350 open spaces of varying sizes.

Another option is to raise more money from staging events, such as Love Saves the Day and Tokyo World at  Eastville Park. It has also been suggested that events at Ashton Court might be supplemented by higher parking charges, paid-for facilities such as a Go Ape assault course, and perhaps an admission fee for the Balloon Fiesta.  

Increasing activities at some of the larger parks “will help us invest in some of the smaller ones,” said  Councillor Craig. A range of other sources of funds are being discussed. The council wants people to come forward with ideas, she said.

She praised the work of Bristol’s many local parks groups: “They are doing a lot already – they are absolutely fantastic,” she said. “We don’t necessarily want them to take on the management. If people want to look after shrubs that’s fine, but we aren’t going to ask them to go out and mow the lawns.

“I think it will be a case of negotiating with the Bristol Parks Forum and local groups about what they are willing to do.”

Rob Acton-Campbell, secretary of Bristol Parks Forum, which brings together voluntary groups from most of Bristol’s parks, said it was a big step up from the £1m a year in parks income at the moment to the £4.4m needed.

“It seem very ambitious to get to that sort of figure in two years – 10 years down the line we could believe,” he said.

The money would have to be raised every year – what if there was a wet summer and events were cancelled, asked Mr Acton-Campbell?

There are also doubts about how many more events parks can take, and whether the council has the staff able to organise them.

There is a limit to what residents will do for their parks, he added. “People will volunteer if they think they are adding to what the council is already doing – extra habitat management for wildlife, work on flower beds,” he said, “but if we get to the stage where you are asking volunteers to do the day-to-day stuff, that’s more difficult.”