Pioneering new trust proposed to protect Newcastle’s parks and allotments

Exhibition Park
Exhibition Park

On 20 November, the Cabinet of Newcastle City Council will take a decision on pioneering and innovative plans to set up an independent charitable trust to run the city’s parks and allotments – protecting these green spaces for future generations.

Responding to continuing cuts in Central Government funding for the Council over the last seven years (resulting in a 91% fall in the parks budget), the Cabinet discussion follows three years of planning and one of the Council’s biggest-ever programmes of public consultation.

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) provided a grant towards the development of the new proposals, which are also being supported by the National Trust.

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

The Cabinet will now consider the creation of a new independent body, Newcastle Parks Charitable Trust, to take over responsibility for the city’s parks and allotments. Subject to Cabinet approval, a recruitment process to appoint a Chair and Board of Trustees to run the new Trust could begin in January. Following detailed planning and preparations, the Trust could assume responsibility for Newcastle’s parks and allotments by the end of 2018.

To demonstrate its commitment to the future of the city’s parks and allotments, the Council is considering making a £9.5 million revenue contribution to the proposed Trust over the first 10 years of its operation. This would enable the Trust to source new income streams not available to the Council; have a stronger focus on the future of parks and allotments in the city; achieve additional efficiency savings; and ring-fence and recycle income purely for the benefit of the parks and allotments.

If the plans proceed, Newcastle would be the first major metropolitan authority in the UK to establish such a Trust. There is national interest in the proposals and the Parks Select Committee visited the city in November 2016, highlighting positive examples of the management of the city’s green spaces.

Supporting the proposals, Cllr Kim McGuinness, the Council’s Cabinet Member for Culture and Communities, said:  “This proposal is about protecting parks and allotments for the people of the city, because these services would otherwise risk closure as a result of austerity. Newcastle has a proud tradition of providing accessible green spaces, dating back to the creation of our first municipal space, Leazes Park, in 1873, and the proposed new arrangements would legally protect the parks for public use and make them self-sufficient and open to all for years to come.

“The strength of the public response to the consultation process demonstrated just how passionately the people of Newcastle feel about the preservation of our parks, allotments and open spaces. Faced with impossible choices, the Council is proposing a radical and pioneering new model that can both sustain our green spaces and take them to the next level in terms of public access and enjoyment. Without this intervention, there would be further deterioration of the parks and allotment estate, growing safety concerns and potential closures.

“Parks provide natural sanctuaries and fresh air in our busy urban environment and we want to ensure equal access for all. Parks are vital to our emotional, mental and physical health and have a key role to play in protecting the quality of our environment, wildlife and ecology. We need to preserve the sense of tranquillity in our parks whilst also enabling more people to enjoy the vibrant activities and events staged in them.”

The National Trust is supporting the development of the proposals and Harry Bowell, Director of the North for the National Trust, said:
“The National Trust has been working closely with Newcastle City Council to advise on the proposed model for an independent Newcastle Parks Charitable Trust. We’re confident that if it’s given the go ahead, the public benefit of Newcastle’s Parks and green spaces will be secured in the long term. Securing places of historic interest and natural beauty for the benefit of people is something the National Trust is passionate about, which is why we’ve been working with the Council to explore ways to transform how urban green space is funded and managed.”

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’s of paramount importance that they are secure and well managed so the people of Newcastle can continue to enjoy them in future.  Our State of UK Public Parks 2016 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.”

For further information about the Parks Charitable Trust proposal, please visit: www.newcastle.gov.uk/futureofparks