How can parks be run for nothing?

February 24 2017

PARK users and even councillors are struggling to understand how the council can achieve its ambition of making Bristol’s parks pay for themselves within three years.

Picture: Volunteers at work constriucting a willow tunnel in Victoria Park. Courtesy VPAG

Making a willow tunnel in Victoria ParkSuggestions raised by officials have included charging an entrance fee to the annual Balloon Fiesta at Ashton Court, increasing parking charges at Ashton Court and Blaise Castle, and seeking commercial opportunities to raise money.

The council wants community groups to discuss partnerships to run parks and open spaces.

Volunteers who help look after South Bristol parks have reacted with disbelief to the plan.

Sue Davies, who chairs the Friends of Redcatch Park, is angry that funds from the sale of council land at Salcombe Road, earmarked for a new car park and other improvements at Redcatch as well as other South Bristol parks, have now been snatched back by the council.

She fears that even in the short term parks will have less frequent grass cutting, and less maintenance.

Volunteers are happy to help with tree planting and other improvements, “but we can’t do grass cutting or collecting the litter,” she said.

“You cannot expect people to give that much commitment.”

If charges are introduced for community events, such as last year’s successful Arts in the Park day at Redcatch, “you would have to hold fundraising events in order to pay for fundraising events!” she said. 

A spokesperson for Copp, the Community of Perretts Park, said the potential for raising income from such a small park was “zero” and called the self-funding plan “unworkable”.

Jon Wellington, Labour councillor for Windmill Hill, said volunteers can help improve parks, “but there’s a difference between tending some flower beds and taking care of the trees and lawns and everything else. I find it staggering,” he said.

VPAG, the Victoria Park volunteer group which is probably one of the best-supported parks groups in the city, has previously said that it cannot see how its members could take on responsibility for the park.

In talks with the Bristol Parks Forum, the council appeared to recognise that volunteers cannot completely take over parks maintenance. But with targets to save £425,000 from the parks budget in the coming year, £632,000 in 2018-19 and £2.8m  in 2019-20, it is clear that serious cutbacks would be needed.

Parks officials are expected to report on how much of their budget can realistically be saved by May. It may be that the self-funding approach will be shown to be unworkable.