Saturday, 9 August 2008

What next for our park?

This blog is going to be about the discussion at the Lenton Recreation Consultative Group meeting about the park 'Action Plan' for the next five years, but, first I want to say 'Hi' to Gill in Lancaster, who sent me the following email this week: 'Hi Robert. I just felt I had to email and let you know how much I have been enjoying reading your blog since you sent us the link to it at Christmas. You write so well and the pictures are great. It is a WONDERFUL record of prom/park/lenton life and brings back a lot of happy memories (as well as the occasional less positive one!). I just read the posting about Lenton school, and remembered wandering around Saxondale hospital after it closed. . . a similar sense of a chain of continuity now broken. Thanks Gill for your kind words.

Now, back to business! The Consultative Group has been asking Nottingham City Council Parks Dept for sight of the park's management plan for some time and we were finally presented with a copy at our meeting last Wednesday (6 August 2008). It is headed: 'How Will We Get There?' with a sub-heading: 'Action Plan' and covers six pages. It is not the easiest document to digest because of the way it is laid out. Steph from the Forum realised this, so she proposed that any decisions were delayed until the next meeting (5 November 2008), so that Group members could have time to consider the 'Action Plan'. Melonie from Nottingham University pointed out that it was not actually an action plan — it was a list of 'aspirations' in the absence of funding. When Betty, a local resident, asked how much money we had to spend, Martin, the Parks Development Officer, said the budgets had yet to be finalised, but it might be 'about £5,000 a year'. Martin said that the City Council would help 'the friends', which he and his colleagues insist on calling the group, to raise money to help fund some of the projects.

A quick glimpse of the Action Plan during the meeting convinced me that I needed to compile a spreadsheet containing all the information. I did this yesterday in just under an hour and now have all the information before me on just one page. I am passing it onto Steph at the Forum so that she can forward it to other Group members.

The park's Action Plan shows expenditure with an 'estimated cost' of £82,735 over the next five years as follows:

2008/09 £2,535
2009/10 £40,660
2010/11 £13,085
2011/12 £15,415
2012/13 £11,040
TOTAL £82,735. The main items of which are:

£15,000 'Create parking on site for bowls club' (2009/10).
£10,000 'Design and build a peace garden' (2009/10).
£10,000 'Restore old Barn' (2011/12).
£ 8,000 'Refurbish (Derby Road) toilet block (2010/11).
£ 8,000 'Refurbish Lodge and bring back into use' (2012/13).
£ 4,000 'Update park signage' and noticeboard (2009/10).
£ 3,000 'Green STAT' user survey (2009/10).
£ 2,000 'Secure parking for bicycles on site (2009/10).
£ 5,500 'Hold two events on the park every year (2008/13).
£ 5,500 'Update park leaflet' every year (2008/13).
£ 2,750 'Nottingham in Bloom on an annual basis' (2008/13).
£ 5,300 Park planting and wild life related (various years).
£ 3,000 Recycling initiatives (2009/10 and 2010/11).
£ 685 Access audit (2009/10) and ROSPA (2008/13).
TOTAL £82,735 (I have added inflation allowance for annual items).

I have compiled these totals from the Action Plan, which just lists individual items.
There is one glaring omission. The cost of Club House alterations to make the building more secure and to provide internal toilets. This is something bowlers have mentioned at meetings. I would estimate the cost of this work to be £20,000.

I would also like to find some money to pay the Forum for its park support role and servicing the park consultative group. £2,000 a year seems a reasonable sum.

I also want to link my comments on the Action Plan to the recommendations of the Green Flag judges, who visited Lenton Recreation Ground a few months ago, and gave us a score which enabled the park to achieve its fourth consecutive Green Flag.

The judges made 14 recommendations, of which three related to the Old Barn building, which is used as a store. It was already here when the park opened in 1888 and can be found of an Ordnance Survey map dated 1881, when it was attached to what looks like a small laid out garden between it and the Derby Road. It doesn't appear on a map compiled in the 1820s, so it was probably built in the mid-19th century. I have asked the Nottinghamshire Buildings preservation Trust if they will send someone to look at it, perhaps the first step in the Group carrying out an options appraisal with the Forum, Parks and the Trust.

The judges say: 'Future use of the Old barn should be determined or reference removed from the (Action) Plan'. In other words, we have nine months to get something together. So what does the Action Plan say? It shows £10,000 allocated
in 2011/12 to 'Restore park barn'. The performance measure is that the 'Old Barn restored and interpretation added'. Does this mean it will continue to be used as a store or is something else envisaged? There has been talk of using it as a small café, which would cost a lot more than £10,000. You could argue that maintaining the building as a park store is something which should come from the park revenue budget for routine maintenance. It is the victim of deliberate neglect for various reasons. In the end I will happily help raise grants for its restoration, whatever its future use, but if there is a pre-determined option as to its future use, I would like to be told now and not spend months in phony consultations. I have no problem with it remaining a park store.

Another recommendation from the Green Flag judges was that the park should 'Consider (the) joint use of church land, to act as a car park facility'. Since I didn't meet the judges this year, I think I can fairly argue that they used their own common sense to see and state the obvious: that the park does not need to spend £15,000 on 'Parking on park for bowls club'. On every occasion when I have seen (and photographed) bowls cars parked in the park, the parking spaces in the pocket 10 yards from the park entrance on Church Street has been empty, as have parking spaces on Church Street.

There have been days this year when the park has been so busy that park users have had to sit and lay between the bowls cars parked in the park, as this picture so clearly shows,…

… whilst a few yards away car parking has been standing empty. The pocket park is little used, except by the church on Sundays and as a place to leave occasional excess green waste from the park. If there is spare money to spend on grass grids or hard-standing for cars, then this is where it should be placed. Not in the park! The Action Plan shows the £15,000 down for expenditure in 2009/10 and at a time when local authority money is going to be squeezed because of the present financial climate. As far as I am concerned all the evidence is against spending this money and any independent observer would, I believe, agree with me. In this respect they don't come any more independent than the Green Flag judges who visited the park a few months ago. And for the record, the pocket park is not church land. It was a road until the late-1980s and I have seen or heard no evidence that it was sold to Holy Trinity Church. We could also ask the City Council to provide 3 or 4 disabled parking bays on Church Street by the park entrance.

As my summary of the Park Action Plan shows there are some large items of expenditure which need to be prioritised, assuming that Martin's comment about Lenton Recreation Ground having an annual £5,000 capital allowance is correct. In the order of things and from what little I know about the City Council's overall budget and priorities, this seems quite a generous sum. This also means a lot of money will have to be found by fundraising, which I know the Parks Dept would like the Lenton Recreation Ground Consultative Group to do. If every park 'friends' group bids for lottery and charitable grants we will be in competition with one another. The result of this approach is that some parks and groups, with greater needs, will lose out — just as they do when it comes to education and other local service needs. In this respect, I would want Lenton to work closely with residents who support the Dunkirk and Priory Parks.

Refurbishing the Lodge at a cost of £8,000 in 2012/13 should not come from park money as the lodge is occupied. This is a housing matter.

Before making any decisions, I hope our Group will request more information. For instance, since 2004 we have had all new signage in the park and there are three noticeboards by the bowling greens. One of these could be moved to the Derby Road entrance and how much has the existing signage cost in the last four years?

£3,000 for a park users survey in 2009/10 seems like a large sum to me. Is this work the Forum could be paid to do? As you can see there are lots of unanswered questions to be considered. Several times in the past I have asked for statistics about park use in Nottingham, including bowling green usage, but I have been told in meetings by Simon, our previous Parks Development Officer, that the figures are not available. How can the Parks dept manage and plan its services in the absence of such information?

No sane person expects our park(s) to be self-financing, but their budgets should be easily accessible and open to scrutiny and broken down into individual parks and open spaces. In the absence of this information, the Lenton Recreation Ground Consultative Group cannot expect to make the best decisions possible. Perhaps this is how some like it to be, since it enables them to guide us in the direction they want us to go.

In the Nottingham City Council Wollaton West ward by-election on Thursday (7 August), Labour increased it share of the vote from 20% to 24%, at a time when the party is performing very badly in other parts of the United Kingdom. A great performance.

Russian forces were moving to take total control of South Ossetia this weekend as Georgia withdrew troops amid intense diplomatic efforts for a ceasefire to end the three-day conflict in which 2,000 people have reportedly been killed and up to 22,000 displaced.

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