We believe a way can be found to bring innovation into our parks and cut costs BUT local residents and park users must be a huge part of the process
At its meeting on Friday the Cabinet of Liverpool City Council will consider a procurement exercise for the management of Calderstones and Stanley Parks. The council is trying to save money and find new ways of managing the parks. The Liberal Democrats have no objection to this in principle but we do have great reservations about the process. I cannot speak in detail about Stanley Park which has only just entered the frame. Originally the Council was looking at Calderstones and Walton Hall Parks. I can however say that the process for dealing with this to date is badly flawed and that gives me little confidence for the future.
This all started after the Mayor said that there would be no money to maintain any parks in Liverpool from 31st March 2017. Fortunately that was not correct and the council are still operating all our parks albeit with reduced maintenance budgets.
The Council’s response to this was to set up two ‘task and finish’ groups to take forward proposals for Walton Hall and Calderstones Parks. The one for WHP never met. The one for Calderstones met twice; had its December 2015 meeting cancelled and did not meet again until April 2017. This was despite me making numerous attempts to find out what was happening and when decisions would be made.
To help the process Cllr Makinson and I worked with the Friends of Calderstones Park and held an open day in October 2015 the details of which were widely circulated. More than 120 people actually came to the day and a further 75+ filled in a questionnaire and posted it to us. This enabled Cllr Makinson to write up a report about what would and would not be acceptable to local residents and park users. That report was given to the council and would have been the subject of the December 2015 meeting.
Since then I have had several discussions about this with Cllr Munby and have made clear what I consider the process should include or have included:
- That there should have been meetings with the various user groups in the Park including, of course, the Friends of Harthill & Calderstones Park before a procurement exercise took place so that the right information about what was possible should be included in the tender documents. This would give all tenderers the knowledge beforehand of what was required without hindering their ability to be innovative.
- The Ownership of the Park should remain with the Council. We are pleased that with the exception of the Harthill and Beechley parts of the Park that are being sold to Redrow this will be the case.
- That a private section solution is unlikely to be acceptable. There are already concerns about the number of children’s fairs taking place in the Park at Christmas, Easter and Summer times. There is, of course, room in our Parks for fairs etc but there is a strong feeling that this has now been overdone.
- That the best way forward would be a local, regional or national none-profit charity or trust with a local or green space remit. This should not preclude local residents forming a Trust to do this. Indeed the new none profit making Community Interest Company established by local green space campaigners would enable them to do just this. The model for this could be the successful use of the Mansion House and other buildings by the Reader Organisation inside the Park.
- That whatever happens the ability of users and residents to influence ongoing park use should be built in to the tender process and subsequent running of the Park.
Because we are not satisfied that these five conditions have been fully met we will ‘call in’ the report for scrutiny. This will give Lib Dem councillors and the various Friends Groups the opportunity to ask questions at the Neighbourhood Services Committee.
If this is handled well it could be the best thing that could happen to the Park and will safeguard its future. If handled badly it could damage the integrity of the Park as a place of quiet enjoyment and beauty for the people of South and Central Liverpool.
I hope that at the Neighbourhood Services Committee a way can be found to enable the council to look at the possibilities for the Park and a mutually supported way forward can be found. But at the back of my mind are the problems when the Council tendered the former International Garden Festival site. It actually put money into this but at such a low level that the operator could not perform the basic functions for running a public open space and the opportunities to find money making activities for parts of the park were found to be minimal.
At the end of the day a park is a park and not a financial asset. I don’t believe that they can be run with no council taxpayer input. We can however, find acceptable ways of appropriately increasing park usage and reducing running costs. That must be in everyone’s interest.