Community action - benefit or drawback?

Smart parks leaders have for years recognised the need and the potential benefits of developing strong links with their local communities - and were doing just that long before communities secretary Hazel Blears announced her vision to launch a "stakeholder movement" last July.

One year on, with her vision writ large in the empowerment White Paper, Communities in Control: Real People, Real Power (HW, 17 July) which aims to "deliver a fundamental shift in power, influence and responsibility", parks leaders will find themselves encouraged to take those relationships further.

The White Paper brings together all the key "stakeholder" policies that have been aired in the past year, including some that have rightly been met with caution by some in the parks community. One such is the community kitty, which could see parks managers lose control of a chunk of their already dwindling budgets in favour of spending decisions made directly by local people.

Assuming Blears is successful in persuading the public to get more involved in the running and management of local services in the way she proposes, there could undoubtedly be some benefits. Some parks specialists believe the more that residents are encouraged to get more involved in the local authority spending decision-making process, the more public scrutiny there is likely to be of local authority costs and who pays for what - a development that should work to the advantage of green-space spending.

Meanwhile, there is a huge role for community and friends' groups in helping to lobby on behalf of local parks. This has been done successfully in the past before elections, with the focus of local electioneering shifted to the environment and parks. But there are concerns too. While there are many great examples of community trusts in action, there have also been disasters. They must be properly resourced and include the direct involvement of parks and related professionals.

Meanwhile as even parks managers who have successfully worked with community groups point out, some groups can be quite narrowly focused and hence their involvement doesn't automatically open up engagement with the wider community and its views - a key aim of the Blears reforms.

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