Parks contracting study kicks off

Sheffield University researches effectiveness of local authority green space management

Onsite: place-keeping workshop - image: Mel Burton
Onsite: place-keeping workshop - image: Mel Burton

What's working and what's not in the world of local authority parks contracts is the subject of a new research project at Sheffield University.

A confidential email survey will arrive in the inboxes of local authorities across England on 7 September asking how their green spaces are managed - and crucially, how effective those management models have been.

Dr Nicola Dempsey and Melanie Burton of Sheffield's Department of Landscape are spearheading the research as part of a comparative study with Denmark, Norway and Sweden led by Dalgas Innovation and Aalborg University.

Burton explained that green space managers in European countries are also facing budget pressures and are looking to the UK for ideas for outsourcing and partnerships. "It's happened earlier here that parks management has gone to friends groups, private companies or contracting and outsourcing. We've got quite a long history of that so they're keen to see what we've done."

The project aims to identify the "benefits, barriers and trade-offs" in each approach, including how the quality of green space has been affected by each contract, and produce a set of recommendations for best practice.

Explained Burton: "We don't know how everybody's going to cope with local authority cuts. The central issue is how we make the best of the money that's available for the management of green space, and to what extent do we change towards a more diverse way of managing parks."

She added: "We want to know to what extent people are looking to work in partnership with community organisations, or whether they are signing big contracts for a longer period, or amalgamating contracts across local authorities, or perhaps across services within the borough."

Whether councils have the capacity to manage such contracts, and whether the contracts are flexible enough to adjust to budgetary pressures, will also be of interest.

A report produced from the survey will be launched at a conference in 2016, which will be free to attend for survey respondents.

Research - The place-keeping variety

Place-keeping looks at how green and open spaces can be maintained so that they remain open and free for the public to use. This is of increasing concern in the UK where there has been significant money spent on improvements in parks over the past 20 years but less thought and finance invested into future maintenance and management.

Dr Nicola Dempsey (pictured on the right in Sheffield) and Melanie Burton have been involved with place-keeping research at Sheffield for several years. Read about their research at

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