Newcastle parks charitable trust plan takes step forward

Newcastle Council's parks transformation team is to work up detailed proposals to transfer the authority's parks and allotments to a new Parks Charitable Trust.

Exhibition Park - image: Newcastle City Council
Exhibition Park - image: Newcastle City Council

There will be a final decision in October 2017. This allows the team further time to scrutinise the financial and operational aspects of the plan.

The initiative follows a 90% reduction in the council’s parks budget as a result of prolonged Government cuts. A consultation received 4,300 responses online, by post and face-to-face. 

Newcastle City Council is one of the first councils in the country to consider exploring the idea of transferring its parks to a charitable trust.

The council said the "sole focus would be to provide quality parks for the people of Newcastle. If approved in October, the proposal could attract fresh investment for the city’s parks, recreation grounds and allotments".

The work is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the National Trust, who would like to explore options for positive long-term solutions for the funding and management of parks and green spaces.

The project has also worked with Open Lab, part of Newcastle University, to deliver a programme of outreach workshops and online Twitter hours.

Newcastle City Council’s Cabinet Member for Culture and Communities, Cllr Kim McGuinness, said: 

"I’m delighted the City Council’s Cabinet have enabled the parks charitable trust proposal to move onto the next vital stage. This gives us time to plan in more detail how the charity could work, what the finances would look like and what it would be responsible for. Feedback from the public consultation and engagement will be central to helping to shape and map out the final format of the new organisation. 

"It’s important to reinforce that the Council will still have an essential role to play in the vision for the city’s parks, as they’ll still retain ownership of the land. We will not turn our backs on our parks, and under this proposal we'd maintain a seat on the board - should the charity come to fruition.

"An ongoing pattern of central government imposed austerity means we must act now. We cannot sit still and the status quo is no longer sustainable. It is our role to preserve and protect our parks for the long term so they can continue to be enjoyed across the city. This is not about a short term solution.  This is about securing the long term protection for our parks.

"We are looking to build something new, trailblazing and fit for purpose - devised especially for Newcastle.  A solution only for here. Newcastle is a Great Northern City, and we shouldn’t be afraid to lead the way and deliver a national first."

Harry Bowell, National Trust Director for the North said: "The National Trust is delighted that Newcastle City Council has taken the decision to further explore the potential for this innovative and exciting project. Parks play a huge role in keeping people physically and mentally healthy, and aid social cohesion."

"Our charitable purpose is to look after special places for the benefit of people and nature, and we are very pleased to be able to work with the council as they look to find the best solution for the long term management of their parks."     

If the proposal is approved in October, then the Charitable Trust could be in place by the spring of 2018.  The Trust would have an openly recruited board to lead the new Charity.

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