Cash crisis to hit green spaces?

From The Argus

Parks, playgrounds and allotments could be handed over to community groups, trusts and not-for-profit organisations under new plans unveiled by the city council.

Brighton and Hove City Council is to launch a citywide consultation which could see clubs and other groups take on responsibility for sports facilities and green spaces around the city.

The council is proposing the dramatic change affecting up to 50 parks, 3,000 allotments, 50 playgrounds, green verges and parts of the South Downs National Park because it no longer has enough money to maintain them all.

Sporting groups have reacted cautiously to the plans, raising concerns about their own financial ability to meet the costs while concerns over continued public access to green spaces have been raised.

Council officers said there is already insufficient funding to maintain playgrounds and sports facilities along with paths, gates, fences and floral beds with budget cuts of £230,000 planned from next month.

Development and grant funding for many playgrounds were also coming to an end, officers warned.

The consultation will explore new management arrangements with responsibility handed to parks foundations or charitable trusts as well as potential corporate sponsorship or small scale developments to fund park maintenance.

Hire costs for sports and leisure activities could also be increased in a bid to make bowls clubs, allotments and sports clubs self-funding.

Rupert Rivett, of the Save The Preston Park Cycle Track campaign, urged the council to be cautious in the speed of reform and suggested community groups would still need substantial council support.

He said: “Personally I would be passionate about possibly doing that but it needs lots of people to do this and what happens if someone’s circumstances change and they leave whereas that passion and expertise will always be there for the council.

“Maybe five or six years down the line when we have lighting and we can rent it out, we might be in a better position.”

Adam Tunesi, Hove Rugby Club chairman, said: “At the moment the council spends about £10,000 a year on maintaining the pitches, which would be a bit expensive for us.

“We are a pretty big club but some of the smaller sporting clubs might find that kind of financial commitment difficult with their operating budgets.

“If we accepted responsibility for these pitches then we would want control of how they are used which might not be popular with dog owners.”

Councillor Gill Mitchell, chairwoman of the environment, transport and sustainability committee said: “Managing public services on reducing budgets is a challenge and not least for the future of our parks and open spaces.

“People really value their neighbourhood parks and recreation areas so this conversation is a way of involving them from the start in a really important discussion on how we create new models for their future maintenance.”

ALLOTMENT HOLDERS FRET OVER SELF-MANAGEMENT

Allotment holders have reservations about being rushed into self-management as part of a major council shake-up of its green spaces.

A city-wide consultation looking at green space management includes proposals for 3,000 allotments.

Management of allotments already vary from council-run to self-management but allotment holders are wary about any move towards further and wider self-governance.

Allan Brown, Brighton and Hove Allotment Federation Committee chairman, said: “There are concerns about taking the problem off the council’s hands because in similar circumstances up and down the country there has been not enough support.

“This has led to allotments running into problems, falling into neglect and then becoming prime land for development potential.”

Mr Brown said allotment groups would have reservations about taking on certain responsibilities such as dealing with holders who fell into arrears on their rents.

He also said managing waiting lists across the city worked better from a central database.

He said: “It doesn’t make any sense if all separate allotment groups managed waiting lists separately, it’s much more effectively done through the council.”

Mr Brown also warned that further self-management would not guarantee the future use of sites as allotments.

He said: “I don’t think it would offer any protection at all, possibly even less so than now.

“The land would still be rented off the council and would still be just as liable to be developed on.”

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