West Midlands Parks Forum celebrates 30 years at second conference

The West Midlands Parks Forum celebrated 30 years sharing "the highs and lows" of public green space management at its second conference.

The forum's second conference was held in central Birmingham
The forum's second conference was held in central Birmingham

Forum chair Liz Stuffins, green spaces team leader at Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council said the group, which has a membership of 30 local authorities and green space professionals within the region, thanked the room of delegates for attending, saying that she knew it was difficult for those in local government in particular to find the time to attend when teams are now so small.

Despite this, she said, the forum has seen a 45% increase in membership since 2014 and a 50% increase in attendance at meetings over the past 12 months.

The forum was established in 1986 in response to competitive compulsory tendering and now members face a new set of challenges.

Speaking at the event held at The Studio in central Birmingham, Stuffins said the forum has done its best to provide a regional voice for parks, if not a national one, in the wake of the demise of GreenSpace and CABE Space. The forum has a connection to the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG), is represented at DCLG events and is in regular contact with The Parks Alliance.

Members gave a detailed regional picture of parks management for the Heritage Lottery Fund’s recent State of UK Public Parks report. More recently it has been encouraging its members and others to submit to the Communities and Communities & Local Government parks inquiry before the deadline of 30 September.

But mostly the forum provides an excellent place to meet, network, share best-practice, said Stuffins.

"It is really encouraging to see that people still value face to face networking and can attend this kind of event," she said, adding that it was important to "update each other on the highs and lows of our profession. We think this is essential for our mental wellbeing. 

"I really value the work the forum does and would be devastated if it folded.

"There’s a great deal of camaraderie from inside the region and we encourage people from outside the region to attend if they can find the travel costs. We have representatives from Sheffield and Cardiff attending today."

The conference looked at the issue of planning and parks. Dr Phil Askew of the London Legacy Development Corporation spoke about The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stuart Nelmes, technical director of BWB Consulting, updated delegates on the current situation regarding SuDS, director of business development for the Land Trust Iain Taylor spoke about the trust model of paying for maintenance of green spaces at housing developments long-term, landscape architect and town planner Michael Vout did his best to simplify Section 106 and Community Infrastructure Levy funding, Andrew Ford explained how that worked in a case study on Wychavon District Council and director of Red Kite Network Nathaniel Healy spoke about working with contractor Amey on simplified management plans.

The forum has a website and posts on Twitter using @westmidlandsparks. It meets bi-monthly in a different member authority each time.

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