Parks & green spaces vital to a high quality of life for all in a sustainable Bristol
16th November 2017
Our city’s parks and green spaces are critical for realising this vision, both for our physical and mental health and our access to wildlife and nature. Parks also offer urban cooling, improve air quality and absorb carbon, so are an important contribution to Bristol’s 2050 carbon neutral target.
We understand that local authorities are under pressure in maintaining public services. Bristol City Council does not currently have access to the resources needed to deliver all the services that it currently provides. This is partly due to reductions in the central government grant and limitations on increases in council tax and other revenue-raising options.
The city’s parks service had been set a target to become ‘cost neutral’ by April 2019, i.e. with income at least covering spending. This was an ambitious target: the city’s parks currently have a net cost after income received of around £4.5 million a year, with around 15 months remaining. Bristol Parks Forum, a member of Bristol Green Capital Partnership, had suggested that the target was unrealistic, certainly within the timescale, citing similar conclusions drawn by a Parliamentary committee.
Bristol Parks Forum’s petition on the plans received sufficient support to be debated at Bristol City Council’s regular meeting of all the city’s councillors. In that debate, it was announced that the cost-neutral target would be replaced by an overall reduction of £2,867,000, rather than the £4,500,000 originally proposed.
This change has been welcomed by the Forum, but cuts still pose a risk to our parks and the storing up of much greater costs in the long-term. Avon Wildlife Trust – also Partnership members – have highlighted how our urban green spaces offer rich habitats for birds, mammals, insects and plant life, personal connections with nature close to people’s homes, and places to bring diverse communities together, as well as their role in attracting business and tourism to the city. They called for the impact that our parks have on people and nature to be fully recognised as options for their future are considered.
There are options for raising more income, and pursuit of these may require specialist commercial skills. Also, the potential scale of revenue-raising activity needed for cost neutrality in the short-term could risk our parks’ role as urban oases of nature and calm. Further options for raising income from other sources – for example, workplace parking and tourism levies have been discussed for Bristol in the past – might help to fund to our parks and green spaces could also be explored.
New models of delivery have been proposed, but the city will need to find an approach that works. It will inevitably take time to assess feasibility of other models, which are also likely to require securing funding from new sources. In any interim, funding above and beyond planned increases in income from parks may be needed.
Many active citizens in communities across the city are already deeply involved in looking after our parks and green spaces, with many ‘friends of’ parks and green spaces groups brought together in Bristol Parks Forum (and 9 parks’ friends groups also being Partnership members). New models may involve more volunteering, but a skilled core is still likely to be needed.
There is real potential to increase engagement in our city’s communities with our parks and green spaces and contribute to ensuring they flourish in future.
The Partnership can help to share insights and learnings from experiences of other cities facing similar challenges, and our member organisations can help explore the possibilities.
We encourage our member organisations to take part in the ongoing Council consultation, responding to the suggestions and offering up their own ideas, and so be part of the solution.
The Partnership will continue to engage with this important issue for Bristol’s sustainability, helping to amplify our members’ voices from across the city in this conversation.
Bristol City Council press release, Parks consultation launches today, 6 Nov 2017
Bristol 247, The future of Bristol’s parks and green spaces, 7 Nov 2017
Bristol Post ‘We will not be selling off any parks’ promises Bristol City Council, 15 Nov 2017
Bristol Parks Forum note on the parks petition debate
Blog post from Sam Thomson, Vice-Chair of Bristol Parks Forum