7 March 2016

Big Conversation will get the city talking

Residents could soon be invited to play their part in shaping the future of the city’s parks and open spaces     

Brighton & Hove City Council is currently working on ‘The Big Conversation’ – a strategy which could see major changes in the way parks, sports facilities, allotments and playgrounds are managed in the future, as council budgets decline.

Brighton & Hove has more than 50 parks including heritage parks, playing fields and green spaces, along with more than 3,000 allotments 50 playgrounds, green verges and a section of the South Downs National Park. Most of the city’s green public spaces are managed by Cityparks, supported by volunteers and Friends groups.

Parks and open spaces are critical to the quality of life in the city, promoting physical and mental wellbeing and supporting the economy.  They are part of the green networks that support our unique biodiversity and help mitigate against climate change and extreme weather events.

The city is also part of the wider Brighton & Lewes Downs Biosphere which recognises the unique nature of the local environment.

However, current budget restrictions mean the council is unable to provide the levels of funding currently needed to maintain its parks and open spaces.

There is already insufficient funding to maintain playgrounds and sports facilities, and infrastructure such as paths, gates and fences. Budget proposals for next year include reducing subsidies to outdoor sports and allotments by £230,000.

At a meeting on March 15, members of the council’s Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee will be asked to give the go ahead for the development of an Open Spaces Strategy for the city which will include citywide consultation.

Members will hear how council officers have already been working with organisations in the city, including sports clubs and the Allotment Federation to investigate and deliver better ways of working and the options available for future funding and maintenance.

This could range from setting up Parks Foundations or Charitable Trusts, investigating funding streams and exploring ways that sports and leisure activities could become self-funding. The strategy would also explore corporate sponsorship and allowing small scale developments that could provide funding for park maintenance.

The strategy will build on new ways of managing facilities in parks and open spaces already introduced by the council. These have included:

St Peter’s Cricket Club taking on the lease and responsibility for maintenance of the Preston Park pitch
Clubs taking on responsibility for some of the city’s bowling greens
British Cycling making a significant capital contribution to the Preston Park Cycle Track
The RFU and Hove Rugby Club contributing to the resurfacing of the pitches in Hove
The Allotment Strategy which was co-produced with the Allotment Federation and supported by the Food Partnership.

Options for tennis provision in the city are currently being discussed with the Lawn Tennis Association and similar discussions are also underway with other organisations interested in taking over management of some outdoor sports facilities.

A review of play areas and outdoor sports pitches is also being produced, part funded by Sport England.

If agreed by members, the draft strategy and action plan could go out for public consultation later this summer.

Councillor Gill Mitchell, chair of the environment, transport and sustainability committee said: “Managing public services on reducing budgets is a challenge and not least for the future of our parks and open spaces.  People really value their neighbourhood parks and recreation areas so this conversation is a way of involving them from the start in a really important discussion on how we create new models for their future maintenance.”

Update - August 2016

The Big Conversation is running from 23 August 2016 to 28 October 2016. Share your views now.