North Dorset consults on transfer of public spaces to local control

District council looks to cut maintenance costs with disposal of its open-space responsibilities.

Areas from village greens up to large meadows are among the first plots to be switched - image: HW
Areas from village greens up to large meadows are among the first plots to be switched - image: HW

North Dorset District Council is to dispose of up to 24 areas of public open space land to local town and parish councils in an effort to cut maintenance costs.

The areas of land vary from small quarter-hectare greens to meadows of up to 3.6ha.

The move will see local communities take responsibility for maintaining the spaces and the related costs while the transfer contracts will ensure the land remains only for public use.

The local authority explained that it hopes to start transferring the parcels of land within the next 12 months, with a long-term aim of disposing of all public open spaces that required maintenance funding.

Letters have been sent to the four town and five parish councils that could take over responsibility for the land asking for their feedback on the proposals.

Principal technical officer Mike Coker said so far the response had been "very positive". He added: "These areas are only used by local people and this will enable them to control their own spaces and to engage with voluntary activities. It will give them pride of ownership and the opportunity for community decisionmaking rather than it being managed by a faceless person they never meet."

Coker said the councils would fund the maintenance for the land through existing council tax although they would potentially have to increase charges in future.

"In north Dorset the town councils have more direct employees and equipment than the districts so they are better placed to look after the land anyway," he added.

Legal protection stressed

"We shouldn't get too hung up about who actually owns the land provided it is guaranteed in perpetuity as good quality public open space.

"There must be the correct legal protection in place against selling the land off or using it for another purpose. I expect this to become a popular move but whether small communities will feel able to take on these services is another matter."

Kate Ashbrook, general secretary, Open Spaces Society


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