The Green Space Quality Manual has been in development since Parks for London, which changed its name from the London Parks & Open Spaces Forum this month, was part of the now defunct GreenSpace charity, but it had to be put on hold due to lack of resources.
Now it has been fully developed and will be a useful tool for parks managers, contractors and friends groups alike, said Parks for London chief executive Tony Leach. Crucially, he added, it will allow non-experts such as politicians to see the consequences of cuts and so get a realistic idea of what will happen and be better informed to make decisions on where the axe should fall.
The manual, which is in PDF format and optimised for use across mobile devices, has been developed in partnership with the London Parks Benchmarking Group, which focuses on comparing costs and processes. It was launched at the recent APSE Parks & Open Spaces Seminar.
Users see a brief description and typical photograph of what are considered "excellent", "good", "acceptable" and "unacceptable" levels of maintenance across a range of categories such as hedge maintenance, weed control and grass cutting.
Leach told Horticulture Week: "People can use it for monitoring, raising the quality of green space, changing the regime, seeing how cuts can be implemented and how that could look. That's particularly useful when taking to councillors.
"It fits alongside a standard specification that could be used by London boroughs. We're making things more straightforward and helping boroughs to save money, so they don't have to reinvent the wheel every time they go out to tender."
Leach said the manual, which is free to all Parks for London members, can also be used by friends groups or members of the public interested in monitoring maintenance in their parks. It has also drawn interest from outside London.
Head of culture for the London Boroughs of Richmond and Wandsworth David Allister, who has strategic responsibility for green space across both councils, said his parks department, where Yvonne Kelleher was named parks manager on 1 October when he was promoted to his current role, is already looking at using the manual in a forthcoming tender.
"The manual is a fantastic tool to assist green-space managers in ensuring that their land is maintained to the agreed standard," he said. "It's simple and you don't need specialist knowledge to use it - that's the point." The two boroughs are considering giving their strong network of friends groups responsibility for monitoring their local parks, using the manual.
"You can walk into a park and you can tell immediately if it's well-maintained or not," said Allister. "But if you look at a specification on a piece of paper, well, most people can't relate to that if they are not horticulturally trained. If you asked them 'why is this bad?' they wouldn't be able to say. The photographs in the manual are the prompt. You don't need to be a green-space professional to understand. At times of budget cutting there is less money for monitoring. Instead of us going there three times a month getting three snapshots of conditions, they can go out every other day."
He said if Richmond and Wandsworth do adopt this approach, the volunteer inspectors will be supported and monitored by green-space professionals, but added: "It's still quicker to sit and go through 30 reports and sets of photos than to go out and visit 30 sites."
Parks and open spaces manager for Islington Council Andrew Bedford said: "Where the quality manual will be very useful is in communicating clearly with residents, users and members what standards of maintenance should be expected. It will also, of course, be useful with new staff to be clear about the standards we expect without having to go through detailed specifications."
Parks for London is also working on another document based on advocacy tools aimed at supporting local authorities that is due to come out next year. It is also working towards a standard policy for managing large-scale events in parks, another top issue among London parks managers.
It is due to hold two meetings next month, one on by-laws and enforcements and a networking event at City Hall. The invitation-only occasion will focus on "breaking down silos", said Leach, with representatives from the private sector, local authorities, contractors, architects and landscape architects, surveyors, planners and those from connected sectors, such as health, invited.