Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Strategic Diversions in the Parks

Today's Evening Post publishes some questions emerging from all the protests about the threatened sale of Bristol's green spaces - and how Gary Hopkins, the Cabinet member with the Parks brief, responds. I've added my own comments in italics - plus a bonus Q&A at the end.

Q THERE has been vocal opposition to a quarter of the areas put forward for sale at the very least – is that an acceptable number?

A It's certain there will be changes to the original list that officers came up with.
But just because there are comments doesn't mean there will be changes to individual sites.
How can we address 30 years of neglect without a strategic, sensible action?

* Of course it needs action. The problem is whether the way of funding that action is fair, realistic, or sustainable. I suggest it is none of these.

We will guarantee that every park not sold off will be protected for the next 20 years.

* What's so special about that promise? Isn't it what councils are supposed to do anyway?

Q Is it fair to give money raised from selling land in one part of the city to another area that might not lose any green space?

A The whole point of the strategy, which all parties signed up for, is that there should be minimum standards people should be able to expect for their green spaces.

* As Glenn Vowles has pointed out (and Gary Hopkins himself admitted at Stockwood) the Green Party opposed the funding method from the start. No one listened though.

It would be ludicrous to sell off land where there is a deficit of green spaces.

* Setting up an aunt sally just to knock it down again. No-one's suggested any such thing

Q Should money be going to improve parks in relatively wealthy areas like Clifton and Henleaze, which won't lose out on any green spaces?

A What about areas like Easton and Lawrence Weston, which have a shortage of open space? Would it be fair to say you should deprive people of Easton of the parks they need?

* A politician blatantly avoiding a question. The general cash flow will be from the less wealthy outer wards of Bristol into the centre - and into the general council pot.

The argument that you can't sell off land because you're spending the money elsewhere in the city is not a particularly strong argument. Improvements cost money.

* The fact remains that many poorer communities, where green space is one of the main amenities, will lose out. That makes it a stronger argument than it would otherwise have been!

Some people might come up and say we don't want anything sold off up here but then say we would quite like those improvements.

* It's not unreasonable for people to expect that children will have play space near their homes, and would look to the council to provide it in the course of time. That doesn't have to mean raising cash by selling valued land, then putting (some of) the proceeds into buying new swings.

In some areas there wasn't any local group interested in that land, so we have stirred up interest.

* A bit like saying the blitz was a good thing because it brought people together.....

Q Instead of selling off green spaces to raise money for improvements, why not spend section 106 money, raised from developers who submit major planning applications?

A We know it's not enough. It's a quarter of what's required. There are four funding sources – land sales, section 106, council money and grants. The grants are easier to come by when there is a strategy showing what you want.

*Here in Stockwood, the major improvements aren't being funded by the Parks Strategy sales, but by old Sec 106 money. Can't that happen elsewhere?

Q The council says it wants to sell the green spaces to help fund an £87 million programme of improvements to other green spaces in Bristol. How many of the 62 sites will have to be sold to raise the £63m the council says it needs to fund improvements?

A We can't say how many, it depends on the sizes of the areas and other factors.

This is a 20-year strategy, so we're not talking about selling off 15 to 20 spaces now.

*The Strategy gave ball-park figures of £90 million, raised by the sale of 90 acres, providing £60 million to spend on parks improvements and maintenence over twenty years. What happens after that is anybody's guess. That was always the real target - not some notional mapping of those land assets considered to be of 'low community value'. It follows that market value will determine which sites are put up for sale.

It's not likely any of these will be sold in the next few years.
The situation has always been that land has been sold off on a piecemeal basis but the money has not gone back into parks.

* Of course every council will buy and sell land in order to function (some might even give it away if there's a rich tax exile wants it). In this case, of course, only 70% goes back into the parks, and some of that is merely for maintenance.

Q Why not just sell off brown field sites instead of building on green spaces?

A That's what the site allocation plan is for. The money from those will go back into the council coffers, and some of the money for the green spaces plan will come from the council.

* Not entirely true. The site allocations document is about future land use, whether by the council or anyone else.
Still, this simply suggests that the parks can't expect anything much in future from general council funds, even though they're a council service. We've been conned.
How do other councils find the money to provide and maintain parks? Bet they don't use the Bristol method....

Q The council is consulting on two separate documents at the same time – the area green space plan and the site allocation document – which confused some residents. Should the consultations have run separately?

A No. They are two separate processes but there are connections between them because both involve council use of land. If responses have been sent to the wrong department that's not a problem.


Q What happens when the consultation comes to an end?

A A list will come out in December of the sites that are going to be sold off.

* Verdict first, evidence afterwards.

[Here's one further question, not put in the Evening Post:]

Q. What if there is insufficient 'low value' marginal land available once the planning process has been concluded?

A. The council will review the ambitions of the strategy and consider alternative funding sources. (At least, that's what it says on p42 of the Parks and Green Space Strategy. Looks like Hopkins and Co have unilaterally ditched that part of the deal, though!)

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