Saturday, 26 April 2008

Nottingham Open and Green Space Forum

Members introduce themselves at the first meeting of the Open and Green Space Forum.

On Thursday evening I attended the first meeting of Nottingham City Council's new 'City wide Open and Green Space Forum'. I left the meeting thinking that it had better than I had expected. Of the 23 people in the room, I identified thirteen as community activists of some kind, most of whom were also a member of their local city council area committee, although some areas were not represented. All of us were genuinely concerned about Nottingham's parks and open spaces and those concerns were more than parochial. By any measure this provides us with a good starting point for future discussions.

I was very pleased that one shared view which emerged very quickly was that the city's parks should be looked after and managed by the Parks Department instead of having to share responsibility with Neighbourhood Services and Streetscene. During the presentation at the beginning of the meeting there was a reference to a 'one custodian department' and although an attempt was made to defend the present arrangements for parks maintenance by saying that if you have 'transparency' then it doesn't matter how a service is provided, the fact that the issue came to the fore so quickly, in my view, reveals a common experience across Nottingham by park users and community activists and a collective recognition that common sense and good practice dictates a 'one custodian' approach.

I am confident that this is an issue which will be addressed as it is problem which is recognised not just by Dave Trimble, the City Council Portfolio Holder whose brief includes parks, but by Jon Collins (the Leader of the City Council) and others as well. As Dave said in his introduction at the beginning of the meeting,'Parks are becoming a political issue because public concern about parks is increasing'. He also said 'We need more people working on parks who do the graft — that is my priority' and concluded by saying that 'Parks are and should be a real symbol of civic pride (and) to make this happen I need the help your help'.

To be continued… …As I was typing this blog my sister telephoned to say that James, my step-father, who was in hospital after suffering a severe stroke, had taken a turn for the worse, so we stopped everything and spent the next hour making all the arrangements you have to make when you leave home suddenly. My son, Owen, was brilliant and immediately volunteered to take us down to Eastbourne, where James lived, and to stay with us. James felt well enough to try and speak, despite his loss of speech, and he actually looked quite well, so we left thinking he might just surprise us all and pull through despite his age (he was 83), but it was not to be. He passed away this morning (Wednesday 30 April). His was a life of service to others in every sense of the word — a Red Cross volunteer and activist from the age of 19 until the day he had his stroke. A hospital porter for most of his working life and Head Porter at three hospitals, he cared about people in every sense of the word. On the day of his 83rd birthday (19 April) he received an invitation to a garden party at Buckingham Palace this coming July. I think we all hoped life would be kind and that he would be there. Enough of this for now and back to my blog about the 'Nottingham Open and Green Space Forum'…

Councillor Dave Trimble's introductory address set the tone for the day and, yes, it was, in part, political and this may well have offended some, but I am with him 100% in his attitude. The demise of parks can be traced back to Mrs Thatcher and the 1980s and her legacy is still with us.

Despite the fears of some I think the meeting avoided becoming too parochial and did spend most of the time addressing broader issues. Perhaps the best evidence of this came out of the session where Forum members divided into four groups and fed back their ambitions for parks and open spaces over the coming decade. the 'ambitions' included 'Something for everyone', 'High standards', 'Adapting parks to individual community needs', 'Link all parks via green corridors', 'The chance for all park users to make a difference' and 'Spaces of beauty'.

These are ambitions which the Forum will return to again and again over the coming years, together with many other ambitions. Now that we a city-wide forum we need to keep it and develop it. Eddie Curry, the Parks Director, made it clear that this was his ambition too and suggested that we invite speakers from other parks forums (like Bristol and Manchester) to come and tell us about what they do. To keep the momentum going, the Forum's second meeting will be on 15 May 2008 to learn more about a Nottingham open spaces 'audit' by consultants, who have undertaken a 'mapping exercise' using various measures and standards. I am a great believer in spatial aids and mapping as a way of understanding and seeing the challenges which confront us, so I am looking forward to the next meeting. This very fact in itself makes the Forum's first meeting a success by my standards. I am sure that most of the other people there left feeling the same way.

A survey of 2,500 adults, published today, shows that only one per cent of under-30s would consider visiting an end of the pier show on holiday, two per cent would send a novelty postcard, three per cent would ride a donkey and two per cent would sit in a deck chair and watch a Punch & Judy show.

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