Representatives of major organisations including Box Moor Trust, the Parks Trust Milton Keynes and Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation attended a meeting at the offices of the Nene Park Trust (NPT) in Peterborough to discuss ways of encouraging parks leaders to adopt a trust model.
NPT chief executive James McCulloch, who convened the meeting, said the group hoped to encourage a better understanding of the trust model among UK parks leaders and local government by sharing information and best practice.
"Surprisingly, there is no immediately available data out there, so we want to help others by gathering information on who is operating under this model and how they are doing it," McCulloch explained.
He added that the group particularly wanted expertise from larger parks trusts on the benefits of long-term agreements. "We want to promote the idea to the Government that after the one-off endowment from your local authority there is no cost to the public for the rest of the life of the agreement," he said.
Nene Park runs at an annual cost of £1.5m, entirely generated through an endowment of commercial park properties and investments.
McCulloch said the NPT's model allowed them to plan ahead with confidence, but added that it may not be the right strategy for everyone.
"You have to secure the right level of endowment and people should be aware that if one of their assets fails there is no-one to bail them out, so they must diversify," he said.
UK PARKS TRUSTS AREA, SIZE AND OWNERSHIP
Area Size Ownership
Parks Trust, Milton Keynes 1,600ha 999-year lease
Nene Park Trust, Peterborough 1,000ha 999-year lease
Box Moor Trust, Hertfordshire 200ha Entirely owned
Highfield Park Trust, St Albans 60ha 150-year lease
The issue of developing alternative parks management arrangements has gained momentum thanks to budget pressures. In an open letter to HW last year (HW, 10 September 2010), parks consultant Sid Sullivan said councils' management of parks had "reached the limit of its effectiveness." He urged green space leaders to:
- Lobby for the freedom to operate outside of direct council control by setting up parks boards.
- Create social entrepreneurial management buyouts, trusts or cross-border partnerships.
- Merge datasets with local authorities' health and education departments.
- Act on answers to the questions of why people use parks and how we can affordably provide the services.
Reactions to the letter revealed conflicting opinions in the sector, with calls for councils to adopt a more entrepreneurial approach to parks management such as council-community partnerships and for ring-fenced resources to be made available for parks upkeep.