Chartered Institute of Horticulture president Andrew Gill has unveiled a "radical" new proposition to bring all of London's parks departments and agencies under the management of an overarching public body.
Speaking as an independent consultant rather than as the institute's president, Gill said he would like see a Green Infrastructure Board for London (LGIB) created to oversee and co-ordinate green space investment and management across the city.
It would incorporate green space managed by London boroughs, Lee Valley Regional Park Authority, Queen Elizabeth Park, The Royal Parks, City of London, the Greater London Authority and any local authority housing land not leased by a social housing group.
Gill mooted his idea - refined over several years in discussion with practitioners across the sector - at a Green Infrastructure Task Force conference at City Hall on 31 July. The task force was set up by mayor Boris Johnson to promote green infrastructure and create a business case for investing in it.
Under Gill's scheme, LGIB would be a charity with a land-use planning role and statutory powers, such as the ability to deny a local authority permission to sell a green space if it is key to the capital's green infrastructure. It would also help the sector be more influential and strategic, he explained.
The board would be a "game changer" for marketing, purchasing and procurement, saving money by reducing the current "huge duplication" that happens across the city.
Funding for the proposal would come from a tax on Londoners (replacing the current Lee Valley Park levy) as well as endowments, donations and an investment vehicle. Money raised by selling or leasing land would be retained by the board and reinvested in green infrastructure such as sustainable urban drainage.
While landownership would not be transferred to LGIB, it would be demised under a long lease or a license to occupy. Maintenance budgets for each local authority would be set at their average spend over the past five years and each local authority would employ a small green infrastructure team, paid for by LGIB.
Gill said he is "deadly serious" about his idea but realistic about the problems it entails, including the difficulties of uniting more than 40 public authorities and agencies and gaining political support. He also agreed with audience member Sue Morgan's concern that the board would be "bureaucratic and top-heavy" but contended that it would be a vast improvement on the current duplication across the city.
A Policy Exchange report due out shortly will propose a nested governance structure for London's green spaces, with a mixed top-down and bottom-up approach. Research fellow Katherine Drayson, who helped write the report, told the conference grass-roots organisations could continue work they are already doing while an umbrella body would provide guidance and strategy.