Back in 2013, Watford Borough Council adopted an innovative and challenging green spaces strategy - "Green Spaces Better Places" - and a 10-year green-space plan. The vision was for a network of accessible, high-quality and valued green spaces promoting sustainability and biodiversity as well as supporting economic social and environmental aspirations.
It stepped up to the challenge despite being in the middle of outsourcing its parks service to Veolia. Watford had a £5m pot of section 106 funding to allocate to areas of greatest need within the borough. An audit found while Watford had three Green Flag parks, many other open spaces were of very low quality but highly valued by the community.
It was decided to improve a whole series of parks in one hit - Oxhey Park, Callowland Recreation Ground, King George V Playing Fields, Waterfields Recreation Ground, North Watford Playing Fields, St Mary's Churchyard, Riverside Recreation Ground, Watford Heath, Knutsford Playing Fields, Vicarage Road Cemetery and North Watford Cemetery.
A parks improvement programme was created with the aim of obtaining Green Flag Awards for all the parks subject to investment, with landscape architect Southern Green appointed to assess all the parks and open spaces and draft conceptual plans to allow simultaneous consultation across the board. The programme also encompasses a £6.5m Heritage Lottery Fund restoration of Cassiobury Park that started in March and covers 13 adult gyms and 27 play area improvements.
Ground Control won the contract to carry out the majority of the works at the same time across all the park sites. Works were successfully completed in early 2015.
All the parks have now moved from low quality and high value to high quality and high value, with the Green Flag total now at six. Among them is Callowland Rec, which had previously been dismissed by council colleagues as impossible to bring up to Green Flag standard. The judge noted that management "should be congratulated on developing Callowland from a antisocial area into a sustainable facility".
Oxhey Park has now won a Green Flag for two years with a very high score off the bat in its first year. A further two parks, Waterfields Rec and North Watford Playing Fields, have been submitted for 2016 judging.