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Could this signal the future of all North East parks?

Newcastle civic centre from the park

6:45am 21st November 2017

A decision by a North East council could have wider implications for our open spaces.

Last night (Monday November 20th) Newcastle City Council’s Cabinet approved a proposal for innovative plans to set up an independent charitable trust to run the city’s parks and allotments.

The pioneering approach to parks sees Newcastle become the first major metropolitan authority in the UK to establish such a Trust.

The proposal for a Charitable Parks Trust model wasn’t a decision made overnight as the programme undertook three years of planning and one of the Council’s biggest-ever public consultations.

This was in light of Central Government funding cuts resulting in a 91% fall in the parks budget over the last seven years.

To demonstrate its commitment to the future of the city’s parks and allotments, the Council will make a £9.5 million revenue contribution to the Charitable Parks Trust over the first 10 years of its operation.

The council’s Cabinet Member for Culture and Communities, Cllr Kim McGuinness, said:

“This is the first time that a charitable trust has been set up to manage parks and allotments on such a large scale, and I am delighted."

“Swingeing Government cuts of more than 90 per cent to our parks budgets left us with no option but to look at alternative ways of running our open spaces – spaces that are vital to keeping this city a safe, clean and green environment where people can relax and enjoy their leisure time."

“We have worked for many months with the National Trust, Social Finance and Heritage Lottery Fund to bring this plan to life and we are proud of what we have achieved so far."

“Let me assure people that all money raised in the parks will be spent in the parks and their future remains in public ownership for everyone to enjoy. This new and innovative approach will open up our parks and bring back the days when parks were venues for social and community events."

“Now we must get on and lay the foundations for a 10-year plan that will nurture and develop the Charitable Trust that will guide our parks and allotments for future generations.”

This ground-breaking project is being supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and the National Trust.

Harry Bowell, Director of the North for the National Trust said:

“The National Trust is very supportive of Newcastle City Council’s decision to set up a new independent charity to care for their parks. We believe that setting up a Parks Trust is a great way to secure the public social and health benefits that parks offer for the long term. We will work with the new charity to help it get off to the best possible start and share learning with other local authorities interested in finding sustainable ways to secure the future of their parks and green spaces.”

Drew Bennellick, HLF’s Head of Landscape and Natural Heritage, said:

“Having invested more than £12million of National Lottery player’s money in regenerating some of Newcastle’s most historic public parks, it is of paramount importance that they are secure and well managed so the people of Newcastle can continue to enjoy them in future.  Our 2016 State of UK Public Parks research showed that all local authorities are operating in an incredibly challenging financial landscape and so this new approach by Newcastle City Council is an ambitious step which is already providing vital learning for all those charged with managing parks right across the UK.”

The public consultation programme was also supported by Newcastle University’s Open Lab with a specialised online project and community workshops.

For further information about the Future of Newcastle’s Parks please visit www.newcastle.gov.uk/futureofparks - this provided a document underlining all of the parks and green spaces included in the transfer.

What does the new Charitable Parks Trust mean for the immediate future of Newcastle’s Parks? Ten points useful for people to know.

1). The parks will remain free for residents and visitors to use.

2). The changes being made are organisational and will not affect how people enjoy the City’s parks or allotments now, or in the future. 

3). The Council will still own the land, and the Charitable Parks Trust will legally protect them and positively transform their contribution to our communities.

4). The Council will set up the new organisation and fund it over a 10 year period until it no longer needs Council support.  Investing in a new Trust will enable us to look after the parks over a much longer period, look after them better, and at less cost to the public.

5). A TUPE process will see existing Council parks staff transferred over to the new Charitable Trust.

6). The Parks Trust will have a Communities Group which will enable the community to participate in the Trust’s work, and ensure there is a strong voice from within our communities.

7). The Parks Trust will be able to establish new income streams not available to the Council, using its resources in ways the Council cannot, and recycle income back into the estate, purely for the benefit of the parks and allotments.

8). Next year, the Council will start the process of setting up the Parks Trust by advertising for Trustees (directors) early in 2018 and later in the year, the Chief Executive. The aim is to have the Board of Trustees and Chief Executive in place by September 2018 and aim to transfer the parks at the end of 2018 or early 2019.

9). When the process starts in setting up the Parks Trust and the preparation for transfer, the Council will contact businesses and occupiers within the parks to explain the transfer process.  There are no immediate changes, and on transfer, existing arrangements will transfer as they are.

10). Residents, allotment holders, Friends of parks and volunteers will continue to enjoy their activities as they do now.  Over time, as the Parks Trust establishes itself people can expect to see new activities in parks.  There’s also the opportunity to increase the number of allotments.

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