Task force takes up parks agency call

Experts commend proposal for single parks authority as 'radically big idea' needed to ensure London parks survive cuts.

London parks: plan for overarching agency put forward by chartered Institute of Horticulture president. Image: Anne Marie Briscombe/The Royal Parks
London parks: plan for overarching agency put forward by chartered Institute of Horticulture president. Image: Anne Marie Briscombe/The Royal Parks

A proposal to create an overarching London parks body has now been included in a Green Infrastructure Task Force report to be read by mayor Boris Johnson.

The idea was mooted by Chartered Institute of Horticulture president Andrew Gill at a meeting of the task force in July (HW, 7 August).

Gill freely admitted it has weaknesses, including the difficulties of getting the political support for legislative change as well as the bureaucracy that would be inherent in creating a board that represented every borough in the city.

But other parks experts have commended the idea. Independent consultant Dr Sid Sullivan called for the industry to endorse Gill's proposal, which he said provides the "radically big idea" needed to ensure London's parks survive in the current economic climate.

Sullivan said the plan provides "an overarching vision that maintains local autonomy while ensuring that investment in (parks) does not suffer from the rules that require local councils to apply capital receipts to balance the books".

He also called for an initial contribution of around £30m from the Government to create a London parks agency, along with a championing role from the Government's parks minister, and agreed that the proceeds from the sale of park land should be reinvested in parks.

Parks consultant Peter Neal said the idea of establishing a strategic parks authority "deserves serious consideration" and has precedents around the world, including in Paris, Berlin and several US cities.

"A central challenge, as always, is funding," he added. "For the London infrastructure plan this needs to look beyond simply resourcing the ongoing management and maintenance of strategic parks to address long-term investment to create a greener, more connected and more sustainable world city.

"Proposals to capture more of London's tax base have been suggested to fund the capital's growing infrastructure needs. The resourcing of London's future green infrastructure needs, including its wealth of parks, must be a central part of this debate."

A link to Gill's presentation, which is open for discussion online, can be found on the London Parks & Green Spaces Forum at www.lpgsf.org.uk.

London parks - Overarching authority for sites larger than 60ha

The proposed overarching London parks body would cover most green spaces bigger than 60ha, with smaller parks potentially included later.

It would encompass green space managed by London boroughs, Lee Valley Regional Park Authority, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, The Royal Parks, City of London, Greater London Authority and local authority housing land not leased by a social housing group. The body would have statutory powers and funding would come from a levy, endowments, donations and an investment vehicle.

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