Oldham's parks champion Steve Smith retires after 40-year green space career

Prominent parks champion Steve Smith has announced that he will retire from his position as head of parks at Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council next month.

Smith, who has run Oldham's parks for 20 years, said: "I've done nearly 40 years (in the industry) and it's the right time to do other things. I want to spend more time in the Lake District. I've got a mate who has a house with a Thomas Mawson garden, so I want to do work on that. I've had offers to stay involved, which I'm considering."

Smith began at Manchester City Council's parks department in 1972 and later worked at Trafford and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Councils. He also had a spell in the private sector in the 1980s.

He has advised CABE Space and is a GreenSpace trustee, a position in which he hopes to continue. He said it would be "a tragedy" if CABE Space disappeared after CABE's merger with the Design Council.

Oldham's parks department is restructuring and merging with the street scene department this spring. Street scene chief Peter Rafferty, a trained horticulturist, is taking over as head of parks.

Smith said: "Our service is in good nick with a good team and executive. Twenty years have gone in the blink of an eye but all you can do is steward the parks. They've been here since the 1860s but I can say hand on heart that they are in a better state than when I arrived."

One of his last jobs will be to restructure the parks department. He said vacancies in street scene and parks would bring budget savings, prevent staff from being forced out, provide a "relatively painless" passage through budget cuts and protect front-line services.

Smith's biggest achievements during his career have included putting Oldham in Government good practice guides on a strategic approach to investing in borough parks.

Oldham's parks refurbishment programme has seen 12 parks revamped and Alexandra Park refurbished with a £3.2m Heritage Lottery Fund grant. Dunwood Park is an ongoing project and Smith has joined its friends group.

Parks campaigner Alan Barber said: "Steve honed his park management skills in a premier UK department, which has served him well in the quality of Oldham's public parks. I need to thank him for so much of what turns out to be common sense. He has been fearless in challenging bureaucracy and politics in all its forms and in promoting good horticulture.

"I always enjoyed introducing Steve to students at Manchester University. He is a wonderful example of what you can do with the knowledge and experience that they were keen to acquire. He also perfectly illustrates the synergy that is possible between park managers and landscape designers, working together as a team. This has put Oldham's wonderful Alexandra Park back on its feet."

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