BRISTOL: Commercialisation of parks
Brandon Hill park In Bristol (Image: Google, free to use by all partners)
A scheme to make money from Bristol parks will not allow “commercialisation at any cost”, a senior council officer has said.
Bristol Future Parks aims to find ways to help pay for the upkeep and improvement of the city’s parks and at the same time transform the way they are used.
But scrutiny councillors heard Bristol City Council will not allow “Monster Trucks in Ashton Court” as it emerged it has clashed with national funders.
The Labour-run council was among the first in the country to be chosen to take part in the Future Parks project to pilot new ways of running public green spaces when it was awarded £900,000 in June 2019.
The original aims of the project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the National Trust and the Conservative Government, included identifying investment opportunities to ensure the financial sustainability of the city’s parks and green spaces.
But the council has pulled out of the national scheme after it was told to focus on income generation and drop other aspects of the project related to local communities and health inequalities, members of the communities scrutiny commission heard on November 23.
Jonathan James, head of service for natural and marine environment, said the council was pursuing Bristol Future Parks as a stand-alone project as it wanted to continue the work it had started in all of these areas.
He said the council does not have to pay back any of the grant money, but it will have to use £200,000 from the park department’s reserve budget to finish paying for the project.
It has given people and organisations until December 31 to submit proposals on how to enhance five parks and green spaces – Blaise Castle Estate, Chaplin Road Green Space, Dame Emily Park, Eastville Park and Sea Mills Recreation Ground.
Announcing the call for expressions of interest in October, the council said it was “exploring ideas that could help generate income” to pay for park maintenance and improvements, such as “bike hubs, splash parks, cafes, lakeside activities and tree top adventures”.
Mr James told the scrutiny commission the council would strike a balance between commercialisation and social value.
“That’s what we’re expecting as part of the evaluation to see exactly what they can offer above and beyond just paying us an annual fee,” he said.
“It’s not commercialisation at any cost.”
Some Bristol parks already feature commercial activities such as cafes and golf.
Patsy Mellor, director management of place, said any new money-making ventures added as a result of the project would “complement” other activities taking place in a park.
“We do very much try and complement the ethos of a park,” she said.
“We wouldn’t dream of putting Monster Trucks in Ashton Court.”
Ms Mellor said all of the commercialisation revenue from parks is spent on parks, and pays for maintenance such as grass cutting.
Local government cuts have seen Bristol’s parks budget slashed by millions in recent years.
The council pulled out of the national Future Parks project in May of this year and is progressing it as a standalone scheme pursuing the original aims of the project.
The original aims included addressing health inequalities and inspiring communities to “take more responsibility to provide and support park services”, according to a paper to the scrutiny commission.
Words: Amanda Cameron, Local Democracy Reporter
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