Sadness at decline of Brighton and Hove’s parks

From The Argus

Autumn colours in Stanmer Park.

Autumn colours in Stanmer Park.

Brighton and Hove’s parks boss has expressed her sadness at the decline in our city’s green spaces.

Councillor Gill Mitchell, chairwoman of the environment committee, contacted The Argus after we highlighted the plight of Preston Park in last Monday’s paper.

She said: “It saddens me that many of our residents, city parks staff and gardeners can remember a time when there was more funding available and a real sense of pride in the city’s parks, and are now having to witness this decline.”

The city’s parks are suffering following budget cuts over the last few years.

Council bosses now propose cutting a further £600,000 from the budget.

The city’s largest park, Stanmer, is hoping for £4 million from the Heritage Lottery Funding to overcome a number of problems which are widespread across Brighton and Hove’s green spaces.

Cllr Mitchell said: “It’s encouraging to hear how much people really value their neighbourhood parks and recreation areas, and want to see them protected and preserved into the future.

“It’s good to see The Argus taking an interest in the future of parks and open spaces in the city.

“The parks and open spaces budget is one of the council’s smallest budgets- approximately £14 per person a year – and the continuing central government funding cuts means the council is no longer able to provide the levels of funding currently needed to maintain its parks and open spaces.

“This leaves us with no option but to radically rethink the way we manage parks in the city.”

The city’s parks budget was £4 million last year but the department’s budget is due to be cut by £600,000 to £3.4 million between now and 2020.

The council has launched a consultation into the future of its 147 parks and green spaces warning that they will not be able to save all of the city’s 53 playgrounds as they tighten their belts.

Community groups and residents could be asked to take responsibility over parks.

Residents are being asked to support replacing play equipment with natural play features carved from trees which require less maintenance.

The consultation continues until October 28.

THE SURVIVAL OF STANMER IS ESSENTIAL FOR EVERYBODY

THE future of the city’s largest park will be dependent on heritage funding.

Brighton and Hove City Council has applied to the Heritage Lottery Fund for almost £4 million to restore Stanmer Park.

Councillor Gill Mitchell described the funding bid as “a one-off opportunity to halt the decline of the city’s largest park.”

While those closest to the park agree that funding is desperately needed, the question of priorities remains.

In July 2014 the council made two applications for Heritage Lottery Funding. There was an unsuccessful grant application to renovate Home Farm but a £300,000 grant to develop a proposal to regenerate the walled garden and other parts of the landscape was accepted.

Since then, council officers have been working with Plumpton College and the South Downs National Park and Heritage England to prepare a master plan for the park and develop a long-term vision for the estate.

A decision on the Heritage Lottery Fund bid is due in December.

A public consultation on Stanmer Park earlier this year highlighted concerns about access, signage, dog mess, parking, cycle lanes and the lack of public bus services.

For campaigner Jamie Hooper, who founded the Friends of Stanmer Park, the survival of the park is essential – not just for Stanmer residents like himself but for all in Brighton and Hove.

He said: “I’m looking from the perspective of the person who lives in a tower block or terraced cottage and wants to come out with the family and kick a ball about and have a cup of tea in the tea room.

“The problem is nobody thinks about the park as an amenity for the wider community. They don’t think about it as a city park but as a private property for an aristocratic family.

“I don’t think what’s being planned is going to be good value for money.”

Some of the issues currently facing the park include damage to the access road which has been badly patched up over the years.

Many of the farm buildings have also been left to fall into disrepair.

Among the conservation plans include the felling of 200 trees and moving another 50 to restore the park to Capability Brown’s (the park’s designer) original vision.

However, for many users their priorities are that the park can be maintained in the future for all of the city’s residents, who don’t care where the trees are located.

Of more sentimental concern is the fact that many of the trees are memorials with people’s ashes sprinkled at their trunks.

Mr Hooper added: “I don’t think most park users particularly care if the park exactly resembled Capability Brown’s vision. Most probably don’t know who he was. But that’s not what makes Stanmer special.”

Mr Hooper said he would rather see a kiosk and toilets or cycle hire facilities.

The crumbling public toilets in the village are set to be moved but he said the money could be better spent repairing them.

“If the council officers making these decisions were talking about their own property they would never let it fall into this state.

“As a businessman I don’t think they are making the best use of the money.

“I’m sure there will be benefits but perhaps not as great as there could be.”

The plans will also reduce the amount of parking space within the park, which campaigners fear may send visitors elsewhere.

The city council has plans to rent buildings next to the walled garden to Plumpton College.

However it is understood the college will not pay any rent until the walled garden, which it runs, is profitable.

The park, which falls within the South Downs National Park for planning purposes, is owned by Brighton and Hove City Council.

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