MP outlines plans for parks community trust

Councils watch Merton plan

An MP is drafting plans for a parks community trust that may become a model for local authorities. Wimbledon Conservative MP Stephen Hammond will put the outline plans to Merton Borough Council this month. Hammond said: “I think it is time for a change in the way our local open spaces and parks are run and protected. We should be letting local people run their local parks.” He had the idea after meeting friends groups. Under his proposals, the council will pay for upkeep but the trust would decide on management, organise equipment and labour for maintenance and collect any revenue. Milton Keynes, Lea Valley and Wigan have trusts. Other councils, including Preston, have considered starting a trust and are watching the progress of Hammond’s plan. Parks consultant Alan Barber backed the plan. He said: “It is possible that this is the way parks will have to go.” At Wigan the trust covers all the leisure set-up, including libraries and sports centres. Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council public relations head David Mather said: “It is an arm’s-length organisation and uses its charitable status to benefit users. It is very successful, the council still owns the facilities but they are run by the trust.” Milton Keynes Development Corporation gave its parks trust a property portfolio in 1992 to own and manage strategic open space in the city. Management of that and other finances means that it has assets of £43 million. One of the problems at Merton is that the council is in debt and is cutting parks budgets, leaving managers wondering where the start-up money would come from. At Oldham, the council is looking at setting up a trust to cover cultural activities. Parks manager Steve Smith said: “If we go to trust status, and they don’t cut funding, we can save money to plough back.”

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