Improving the city green space

St Andrews Park with iron railings that went in World War II (photo courtesy David Cemlyn)

The Parks and Green Space strategy for Bristol has been at least 4 years in development.

As a new councillor I went to all party meetings to discuss the principles on which Bristol’s approach to Green Space could be developed over the next 20 years.

That work led to the agreed Strategy which seeks to ensure that people have access to good quality parks and green spaces of different types, close to where they live. It was adopted by the city council’s Cabinet on Thursday 21 February 2008.

Officers then used mapping data to see how close the different types of green space were to people’s homes so that all of us should have reasonable access to a variety of green space; children and young people’s space, formal green space, informal green space, natural green space and active sports space.

It is sometimes said that Bristol is great on strategies, but poor on implementation.

The challenge implementing this strategy has been funding. The strategy states that in addition to Section 106 money, council revenue and capital and potential matched grant funding, there would be sale of and development on “low amenity value green space”.

Officers used the criteria in the Area Green Space Strategy to draw up a list of 62 such suggested sites and they were published earlier in the summer as the “Area Green Space Plans ideas and options consultation”.  http://www/.bristol.gov.uk/agsp In suggesting those sites, officers reflected on whether there was similar alternative green space close by, the amount of green space locally, whether development might allow other green space to be “looked over” to reduce anti-social behaviour and allow childrens play areas to be safely built, etc, etc.

Many thousands of people have responded to the consultation, with emails, letters and petitions, public meetings and site visits.  There has been extensive press and internet coverage.  The consultation has raised new issues for consideration and indicated how well loved and well used some of those sites are.

The consultation results are now in, the officers are revising their recommendations in the light of that feedback and the Cabinet will need to decide whether to accept, amend or reject the officer recommendations.

The Cabinet must listen and be seen to listen.

We will have the benefit of hearing the views of the all party scrutiny committee who will consider the recommendations at their extra meeting on 15th December before the Cabinet meets to decide on 16th December.

I am well aware that this will be a sensitive and difficult decision. We have had calls to scrap the strategy altogether, or refer all decisions to neighbourhood partnerships.  In making my decision I will find it useful to remind myself of the aims outlined and agreed in the January 2008 report…

  • an increase of up to 70 new play spaces across the city
  • introduction of natural play spaces
  • improved facilities for young people
  • Parks Keepers in all the main traditional parks across the city as a minimum
  • ensuring there is a good quality traditional park within easy reach
  • safeguarding key historic estates and parks
  • establishing a network of 16 Local Nature Reserves
  • making natural green spaces more accessible and welcoming
  • improving grounds maintenance
  • tackling anti-social behaviour
  • improving the quality of sports pitches
  • creating dog free areas and tackling dog fouling
  • developing and redesigning some backland sites

They were right then and they are still right today. Bristol needs to maintain, invest and develop our parks and green spaces over the next 20 years and this offers a way to do it.

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About Jon Rogers

Avonmouth GP, Ashley Ward Liberal Democrat councillor, Bristol City Council Cabinet Member for Care and Health and responsibility for Cycling City. Enthusiastic commuter by foot, cycle, train and bus. Car for special occasions!
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16 Responses to Improving the city green space

  1. MJ Ray says:

    So what does the current proposal *mean*? Can it be summarised better than the bundle of multi-megabyte consultation pdfs that are painful for phone browsers? My top question: is castle green safe?

  2. Jon Rogers says:

    The strategy excludes some areas of the city, that are the subject of separate plans. That includes Castle Park which is unaffected by these plans. The scheme also doesn’t include the new acquisitions to city green space, such as the wonderful Stoke Park.

    • harryT says:

      Actually, a large part of Castle Park is listed for sale by the Council with expected discposal in 2013.

      Remember that when trying to sell Castle Park, BCC always call it St Mary Le Port / Wine Street to throw people off the scent.

  3. Hi Jon

    Nice to see that you’re blogging as well as twittering.

    In today’s press release, Gary talks about the Cabinet’s intentions in respect of each of the disposal sites. Has he already consulted you all, and you’ve all had time to look through the (very extensive) papers? Or is it the Royal ‘We’ being deployed here? Either way, it looks a bit premature.

    • Jon Rogers says:

      I think the word “intentions” is about right. I know that consultation has a bad name in Bristol, but “we” as a cabinet are determined to listen to the views of residents.

      We have a process of (1) [cross party] agreeing a strategy for improving and developing our city green space, then (2) a technical officer investigation based on that strategy, then (3) open consultation on those technical findings, (4) [cross-party] scrutiny of those findings and consultation results, and finally (5) a political decision trying to bring together all factors.

      The Cabinet has been looking informally at the officer reports and the results of the consultation to consider how best to respond, taking all factors into account.

      You may not think we have taken all factors into account, and we will be looking carefully at comments about those sites that we “are minded to withdraw” and others that are still earmarked for disposals. We are genuinely listening.

      I personally think we are doing a reasonable job in difficult circumstances. We seek to balance the need to generate significant investment over 20 years as well as taking account of local opinion and local factors where appropriate. The implementation of this strategy offers the reversal of decades of neglect in parks and green spaces across Bristol.

      We want excellent, local, accessible parks for everyone. Do you not want the same?

      • Jon, I’m afraid you’re conflating the idea that everyone should have ready access, with the less attractive notion that some people have too much access, which should be reduced. What appears at first sight to be a nice egalitarian ambition (though restricted to parks and green spaces – you don’t seem to push it with other amenities or other obligations) does have some unforeseen disadvantages. The sell-off is one. Another is that, for instance, the plans propose such things as ‘formalising’ some green spaces simply to meet the access targets, instead of responding to local need.

        Even after two years, we’ve seen no assessment of whether the sell-off will produce the cash need for the parks budget – all we know is that 30% will be creamed off for other purposes. Nor have we yet seen the officer assessments of community value or sale value of each of the disposal sites – I asked for them in a long overdue FoI request, but nothing’s come back despite reminders. How can anyone make judgements, as the Cabinet seems already to have done, without information like that?

        There is scope within the agreed strategy to “should there be insufficient ‘low value’ marginal land available…. the council will review the ambitions of the strategy and consider alternative funding sources.” Since the ‘low value’ is anything but proven, and the cash value is untested, surely it’s time to exercise that option in the strategy.

      • Jon Rogers says:

        You raise two specific points.

        (1) “The sell off” – I haven’t shied away from that – any land sale can be controversial – in fact “sale of… ” is in bold in my original article. We need funding for our green space and also I suggest our children need space for affordable homes. We are also implementing strong plans to bring empty homes back into use and encouraging development on brownfield sites in the city.

        (2) “… instead of responding to local need” – the whole strategy seeks to respond to local need. Introducing new play areas or local nature reserves, do have local support – in fact many of the suggestions come from local residents and councillors.

  4. PJ says:

    My main concern with the selling off of space to fund investment is the short termism of the proposal. People talk about years of neglect but the problem is selling these sites is a one off funding source over the life time of this plan and the whole strategy for improvements appears to be based on this sell off, what about future years of neglect?

    In twenty years when sites need equipment replaced or just simple maintence, do we just sell some more? Don’t get me wrong many of the spaces proposed are scrappy, underused, poor quality sites and in some instances selling them is the right thing to do. My problem is there appears to be no proposed mechanisms to ensure a steady funding stream for green space and no talk about them either. There are a couple of glaringly obvious sources which I’m sure you are aware of but want to hammer the point home.

    S106 is available, but the Council only it asks for this from developments over 10 and in numerous instances waves this contribution to ensure affordable housing provision. This doesn’t have to be the case with a Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), a charge for every dwelling set a a reasonable level without afforable housing viability issues which would remain under Section 106. Why does infrastructure always loose out in S106 to afforable housing when S106 is supposed to be used for off setting the off site impacts of development? New housings increases the population and subsequent demand for schools, health centres, open space etc, but does not make housing more unaffordable. Afforable housing is an anomoly which Central government introduced so it could share the burden of afforable housing delivery with the private sector. Introduce CIL so Green space is dealt with seperately alongside other real infrastructure requirements and secures its fair share of development contributions.

    Secondly the new homes bonus, my biggest fear is this will be consumed within Council’s budgets and not actually used for visable local benefits As a resident of Brislington I will certainly be keen to know how the new homes bonus from development in the area has been spend to improve the community. Given the demand on infrastructure generated by new development I’d want to see this spent of community infrastructure including green space.

    If Bristol builds the proposed 30,000 dwellings which is looking increasingly unlikely then the New homes bonus would be approximately £220 million, now even if green space only gets 10% of this its still £22 million. Based on the the Council’s own SPD 4 on Planning Obligations, if a CIL was introduced then every dwelling would provide £1,857.67 based on an average household size of 2. A total of £55.7 million even at the 50% reduced rate. If Brislington where I live has 1,000 homes developed there would be £1.3@10% from the new homes bonus and £1.8 million from CIL, so a total of £3.1 million for Green Space in Brislington.

    There is clearly going to be money about for improving green space if the Council’s introduces appropriate CIL and New Homes bonus policy to clearly identify infrastructure requirements and how this money will be spent rather than it disappearing into the ether. The Council’s current Infrastructure Delivery Strategy is a bit lightweight in this regard and following the Localism Bill I’m keen to ensure that approriate infrastructure and funding policy is contained within my neighbourhood plan, but what is the council doing to secure these funding sources and transparently spend them?

    • Jon Rogers says:

      Thanks PJ – lots of good points, including information on a Community Infrastructure Levy and flagging the importance of the Localism Bill.

      I guess twenty years is still “short termism” in the overall scheme of things, but at least it is less “short termism” than that which has gone before. Previously there has been limited investment, and things have slipped back.

  5. PJ says:

    Agreed, at least you have a plan for 20 years and want to build some consensus to support it through a genuine consultation process.

    The reason I flagged up CIL, S106 and New Homes Bonus is they are are all interrelated, they follow on from each other as a suite of funding sources. The common thread is to determine what infrastructure provision they should be spent on, as identified through an Infrastructure Delivery Plan (IDP). This evidence document is essential if you and I are to understand the potential impacts of development and the required solutions. Check out the PAS IDP pilot project for info.

    CIL and S106 are linked directly to development (CIL a fixed calculated charge, S106 negotiable for site specific issues). Both however are influenced by development viability. The common outcome of an IDP is a series of requirements related directly to new development in a particular location (could be a neighbour partnership area) e.g. new school, library, green space, public transport improvements etc, but development viability restricts what can be funded. Currently the negotiated S106 process become a bun fight between departments and Cllr preferences on what should be funded. CIL removes this bun fight saving time and resource whilst providing a degree of funding certainty for each department and greater clarity for the development industry. The down side is that affordable housing (which remains in S106) will be a lower priority due to CIL being non negotiable. Affordable housing delivery will inevitably suffer.

    That’s were in my view the new homes bonus is a natural continuation in funding. It can be utilised to make up the shortfall in infrastructure (CIL will need to be set at an affordable level and therefore unlikely to fund all infrastructure requirements) and that is why appropriate IDP evidence for Bristol’s neighbourhood is required, otherwise how will you decide to spend it on? The outcome without IDP, ad hoc decisions, pet projects and money lost in the coffers unspent. Sound like the current system, doesn’t it?

    I see that Bristol has been suggested as a vanguard authority in neighbourhood planning requirements emerging through the Localism bill (due Monday potentially). If BCC are to do this properly and be a good example then I suggest neighbourhood plans have to get a bit more interesting than your average planning document (vision, development proposals and policies), it needs to get into infrastructure planning and its relationship with proposed sites to illustrate the link between what the community might want e.g. swimming pool or community centre and the levels of development required to support them in both population and financial terms (if public funding is insufficent). Only in this way will community aspirations be realistic, nimby tendencies be reduced and development proposals be actually achievable.

    Specifically I believe that Nimby tendencies could reduce through neighbourhood planning when a) residents understand that projected average household size decline reduces the population in an area and effectively undermines the viability of existing shops and services, b) that development can address this and provide finances to achieve residents visions for new and improved community infrastructure.

    What’s your view on how the new homes bonus should be spent? and will the Council consider infrastructure planning at a neighbourhood level as the appropriate mechanism to plan and determine funding?

  6. harryT says:

    When Bristol City Council sold off the Bank of England and Norwich Union sites in Castle Park in the 1950s (to huge opposition) it was upon the basis that the proceeds of this sale would fund the creation and maintenance of the remainder of the park.

    In fact, all the money was spent on consultants and architects and then one huge wall at the North East end of the park (befotre the money ran out). The park was then left to ruin.

    Next a huge chunk of Castle Park was turned into a car park. Again to fund the future maintenance of the park. In fact, all the money was spent on consutlants, building the square in front of St Peter’s Church and on some public art. The park was again left to ruin.

    Now of course more funding is sought to demolish the wall and fund the park’s maintenance. Presumbaly through the sale of St Mary Le Port (ie the most popular eastern end of the park).

    This is the same trait at the whole Area Green Spaces plan. Selling off green land to fund the maintenance of the remaining green land. But the money always gets (over)spent on consultants.

    We don’t need anything fancy from our green spaces. Cut the grass once a month and we will be happy.

    Unless of course there is another motive behind selling off all this green space to developers ???

    • MJ Ray says:

      Wow. Can someone give some links to descriptions of those events, or pointers to minutes, please, to educate us ignorant incomers?

      Also, does anyone know where the website of the “Save Castle Park” campaign went?

  7. PJ says:

    Interested in the: “Now of course more funding is sought to demolish the wall and fund the park’s maintenance”. Comment. Haven’t heard of any plans to demolish the wall at the North East end, do you have details?

    If the Council was serious about improving Castle Park, have they considered extending the park over Castle Street and maybe opening up the old Castle Moat that runs under from the harbour towards Old Market? Appreciate they might need some development cash to help fund this, so what do people thing about the parks depot building or even the steep banked Lower Castle Street end that until recently was heavily wooded, full of rubbish and rough sleepers?

    Both could be used to provide overlooking, funding and still a net gain in green space if the park was extended over Castle Street. Might work quite nice with Development on the Ambulance station site. I’ve heard that the fire Brigade want to consolidate on Temple Back and would be surprised if the Ambulance Service would be opposed to redevelopment of their facility and relocating to new premises on a shared site.

    I don’t think the Council needs to build on the western St Mary Le Port end of the park. Just help get the norwich union/bank of england site redeveloped along the proposed market lines suggested with a square around St Mary Le Port tower opening out on to the park. No net loss of park required and it would make a nice part of the park better and easier for people to use.

    My final suggest is a bit more unlikely but I have always though the dead frontage of the Galleries Car park was dull. Imagine if one of the levels of car park was converted into retail and a terrace over the top of Newgate/Broad weir. Active frontage and access direct into the park and the opportunity for people to actually site with good views over the park. The Galleries and The Quakers Friars park of Cabot Circus both turn there backs on Castle Park. Above the terrace they could even install a living green wall on the car park frontage.

  8. PJ says:

    Ok, last post on infrastructure funding. This one is on Tax increment Finance (TIF). The Government has proposed to legislate so that Local Authorities can borrow to fund infrastructure based on future increases in business rates from subsequent employment development. Given the large amount of business rates generated in Bristol given over to Central Government compared to the low level of return, I consider TIF an obvious solution for Bristol City Council to fund infrastructure through the greater retention of the business rate growth that will occur.

    TIF is likely to be introduced in 2013/2014 and given the number of major transport schemes currently being considered by the Department of Transport and the likelyhood that not all of them will be funded, I think a TIF to fund major transport schemes is a logical way of addressing the funding gap when it occurs. Also the cost of transport and the potential cap on TIF borrowing at £500 million appears ideal for Bristol.

    Transport improvements across the city is probably the top priority with residents and it is clear that economic growth is strongly linked to having a transport network that works. The second advantage of transport schemes are that they can be used to link major regeneration areas with the greatest opportunity for development allowing several parts of the city to be contained with one TIF scheme area.

    Just think of the North Fringe/Hengrove BRT package £168 million. This schemes serves, Hengrove, Nelson Street and Newfoundland Way (both identified city centre development areas in the emerging Core Strategy) and the north fringe e.g. Aztec, Cribbs, Parkway/UWE and Emersons Green. All of these location will contain new employment development to support the forecast economic growth by 2026 and will all generate additional business rates. When assessing schemes the Government will be looking for schemes that generate additional business rates rather than simply movement of companies and their rates from one authority to another. By funding a transport scheme serving the north fringe and Bristol city centre the Council can ensure that it circumvents this pitfall.

    My preference would be for other transport proposals to be included, e.g. south bristol link, a connection to the airport and the obvious spur to Temple Meads to avoid the circular central loop that is neither fast or direct. This could then be taken out the back of temple meads and on to Hengrove via the Callington link road sheme of Fishponds.

    Like the New homes bonus TIF is designed to make up funding short falls, so CIL/S106 will need to be established first. The great thing about TIF is that it has the potential to remove large parts of the most expensive infrastructure cost from a Cities infrastructure requirements freeing up the new homes bonus for green space and other cocial community infrastructure, like leisure and culture. I know Bristol submitted a propsoal to be a pilot but hopefully the Coalition will role out CIL to all authorities. Bristol City Council needs to be ready for the upturn.

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