Review board sets out Liverpool park options

Liverpool's Strategic Green & Open Spaces Review Board has recommended that the city's parks be put into a "blended finance" endowment trust to protect them as the city faces the loss of all its Government funding.

Sefton Park - image: Flickr Creative Commons/Radarsmum67
Sefton Park - image: Flickr Creative Commons/Radarsmum67

In its final report, the board has gone for its expected favoured option alongside a number of other ideas to provide the £2.5m annual parks budget. This is expected to be one of the first to disappear if Liverpool is, as forecast, left with insufficient money to fund even its statutory services by 2018 as funding from central Government disappears completely.

The board, which includes academics, planners, councillors, senior council officers and representatives from charities and professions, is headed by environmental activist and former Brookside actor Simon O'Brien. Its strategy, published last week, recommends dividing the city's parks into six tiers with flagship tier one parks used as financial "anchors" to attract funding that will then cascade down to the lower-tiered sites under the Charitable Federal Parks Trust model with a board of trustees.

Funding will come from a mixture of an initial endowment, commercialisation, financial gifts and other support.

Alternative funding options put forward include:

- Holding a referendum to ask Liverpool's council tax payers whether they would pay a levy on their council tax bills ring-fenced for green space maintenance. This would vary from £5 (band A) to £15 (band H), making the service statutory at a local level.

- Ring-fencing a proportion of the surplus revenue raised from car parking, alongside more effective commercialisation and/or alternative maintenance regimes. This revenue has been just over £2m for the past four years.

- A £1 per person per night "tourism tax" would raise enough to look after the city's parks. The city had just under 2.3 million overnight stays during 2014.

- Accessing the city's 48,000 students as a resource. They or their universities could pay a levy and they could be trained as volunteer maintenance operatives.

- Do nothing, leave the parks to "go wild" and hope for an alternative solution or "more enlightened central Government" to appear.

The committee's task is now to convince elected Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson to approve a year-long in-depth study into the trust model. The scheme could apply for a transitional fund from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

O'Brien believes that set-up capital costs could total £27m and said he could not see how fully commercialising parks, in the style of Nottingham, would work because small but vitally important local parks would lose out. But he said there is more opportunity to raise revenue from the city's parks. Liverpool brings in £500,000 a year from its green spaces, compared with Nottingham's near £4m annual income.

But he said he feels most Liverpudlians would want to see parks formally protected. "People have lost faith in the council because there's a real suspicion as austerity bites that the temptation to sell the family jewels is great. That's not unique to Liverpool. It's the same all over the country."

He also wants greater involvement from organisations with a vested interest. "It's about time that the NHS and the utility companies, both of whom have enormous vested interests in these spaces, contribute," he said. O'Brien has asked United Utilities to produce a model showing the value of the city's green spaces to the company, in terms of issues such as flood alleviation.

The review board's report also recommends identifying a web of brownfield sites across Liverpool and using development funding to pay for green corridors that would link up green spaces across the city, allowing for wildlife and humans to move freely between them.

Now is the time to campaign on policy as the Government thrashes out ideas on how to deal with Brexit as well as the labour and trade issues thrown up by the decision to leave Europe, according to the horticulture industry.

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