Thursday, 22 May 2008

Getting the measure of Nottingham's open space

Yesterday was probably the first 'balmy' day of the year, when it was just pleasantly warm. For me it was close to perfection. Susan and I spent the day cleaning in readiness for weekend visitors, so I saw these lads on and off throughout the afternoon, sitting in their camping chairs whilst others played footie and cricket around them. They were oblivious to it all and when I wandered into the park at 6pm to take their picture I could see why. They had their game machines and a beer and needed nothing else.

These lads were just a few yards away, chatting and soaking up the warmth, relaxing whilst some of their friends played basketball. I thought perhaps one of them had cycled to the park from a distance, but it was a friend's bike. By any measure they had it made at this particular moment and I wandered back home to get our tea whilst these lads made me want to just laze around, soaking up what remained of the early evening sun and watching life in the park go by.

The main purpose of today's blog is to give my take on last week's meeting of the Nottingham Open Space Forum (NOSF). The main purpose of the meeting was to hear about a report prepared with the help of consultants identifying the 'typology' of Nottingham City Council's open space. To summarise there are twelve types:

1. Parks,
2. Natural and semi-natural greenspace including 'urban woodland',
3. Outdoor sports facilities,
4. Amenity greenspace,
5. Provision for young children and young people,
6. Allotments, community gardens and urban farms,
7. Cemeteries, disused churchyards and burial grounds,
8. Civic space (formal 'hard landscaped' areas),
9. Institutional (schools, hospitals, prisons etc),
10. Agricultural land,
11. Private (may have public access),

12. Other (closed or potential open space).

Some of the types are
then divided into:

i. Destination (within 5km of all city residents / 1 per 190,000 residents),
ii. City (within 1km of local residents / 1 per 18,000 residents),
iii. Neighbourhood (within 500m of local residents / 1 per 5,200 residents),
iv. Local categories (within 300m / 1 per 2,000 residents).

Already, I am sure, you can appreciate the complexity of the information there is about 'open space' within Nottingham City Council's boundary (the data does not include Newstead Abbey, which is outside the city). The fact that this information was presented to us in a spatial form helped, but it was devoid of roads and other geographical detail because, we were told, the cost of showing this kind of detail was expensive because of copyright fees to Ordnance Survey (for some reason this exercise is not covered by the block licence fee the city council pay OS, but the reasons why were not really explained). On top of this it seems barmy that we or the city council should have to pay OS for a service we have already paid for as taxpayers (The Guardian's Monday 'Media' supplement has been running a campaign about this issue for years!).

The meeting last week spent nearly an hour working its way through a series of A3 sheets showing different types of open space, including maps with 'buffer zones' coloured orange to show us what parts of the city did not have access to different open space types. The exercise generated far more questions than I was able to ask because others in the meetings also had questions. One thing I did notice and challenged was why Highfields Park is not ranked as a 'destination' park. This is an issue I addressed in my last blog. For now all I want to say is that, like any system of categorising services and facilities, it has its limitations. This will only be a problem if city councillors and other decision makers are not flexible enough to recognise this.

Interestingly, Broxtowe Country Park (BCP) in the north west of Nottingham has been ranked as a 'destination park', even though, at the present time, it does not meet the criteria, so why not Highfields? Saying this I fully understand what the Parks Department wants to bring about at BCP and will happily support them. What BCP will need is a major city attraction to pull the visitors in. Given its links with coalmining and the fact that the city's industrial museum will never be developed further so long as it is at Wollaton Park, then why not try and get the funding to move the existing museum and use it as a starting point for a bigger, better, industrial museum more in keeping with Nottingham's industrial history at BCP?

Lenton and Radford, for example, are placed outside the buffer / catchment areas for destination and city parks. This is plainly a nonsense in terms of what I would regard as reasonable accessibility. From Lenton you can walk within 30 minutes to Wollaton, The Arboretum and Nottingham Castle Park (all destination parks). The same is true for Highfields (a 'city' park). Bus services to or near all these parks are excellent. There is no way that Lenton can be considered deprived of anything but some 'local' open space. Even then I think these problems can be addressed with a little imagination and determination. I cannot speak for elsewhere in Nottingham, but I suspect that local residents have plenty of ideas about how any dificiencies in park types can be overcome — assuming that there is a real shortage in the first place.

Typologies other than parks got the briefest of mentions, if at all. There was more interest in nature reserves and natural open space than the meeting had any real time to consider and I am sure we will spend much more time on them at a future meeting.

To help me understand the data about open space typology we saw last week I have bought a large scale folding map of Nottingham which I can put beside another large scale map I already have showing city ward boundaries and to complete my own mapping exercise I also have a Nottingham City Transport bus map and a map showing cycle routes across the city. Without this kind of information it is difficult to make sense of the Parks Department's own mapping exercise to accompany its 'Breathing Space' strategy document.

Another thing which jumped out at last week's meeting was how does all the work on open space typology and the Breathing Space strategy relate to Nottingham's exisiting statutory 'Local Plan'. Fortunately I managed to persuade my NOSF colleagues to invite a city planner to the next NOSF meeting so we can find out for ourselves. All my experience tells me that council departments and councillors are not always thinking the same way even when they tell themselves and others that they are.

'Feedback' from NOSF's meeting was being fed into a 'Champions' meeting of some kind involving councillors and other city worthies sometime this week. It will be interesting to see what was said about last week's meeting, as it was not conclusive about anything to do with the mapping exercise. What we did decide to do was to affiliate to the new National Open Spaces Forum and to arrange a tour of Nottingham open space. We also found a chair, Matt Anderson, who pushed the meeting along, is young and his own person — all positive things.

I think NOSF has come a long way in just two meetings and already has the strength of character to determine its own agenda and ambitions, which augurs well for the future. The stage is being set for some constructive dialogue between the Parks Department and park users in the form of NOSF.

I will keep you posted about NOSF and related issues, so watch this blog!

The oil price soared to a new record for the third day in a row today, reaching $135 a barrel, more than double the price a year ago. The spiralling cost of crude is increasing the pressure on petrol and diesel prices and led today to renewed calls for the government to scrap planned rises in fuel duty.

1 comment:

FOVE said...

30th September 2016 - Do you know that today is the last day for submissions to a Governmental Enquiry into the future of Public Parks?

Sadly I just found out. I have also just come across this Campaigns Group. We might not agree with everything but this I can agree with these....

Public Parks and Open Spaces were originally overseen by the Department of Health.
The Breathing Spaces they provide are vital for our Health & Well-being.
They should remain under the governance of the Community and for Community Sports Clubs etc /local Government.
They should not be privatized, fenced off or exploited even by private sports companies and privately run events.

Kind regards