Natural England CEO becomes first chief of Newcastle Parks Trust

Former Natural England chief executive James Cross has been chosen as the first chief executive of Newcastle Parks Trust.

James Cross. Image: Defra

Newcastle City council voted to establish the trust in November after the parks budget was slashed by 91% during austerity and a radical solution needed to be found to look after the city's parks.

The decision to establish a trust, which comes with a £9.5 million revenue payment from the authority, makes Newcastle the first major metropolitan authority in the UK to go down this route following Government austerity cuts.

Some 409 hectares, including some of the city’s statement parks are included in the list of green spaces  which will transfer into trust control – 15.5% of the council’s total open space. 

Founding chair Jim Beirne and a board of trustees were appointed in July. 

Cross left Natural England, the body responsible for the creation of National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Beauty and National Nature Reserves, on 9 November, following what he called "a significant period of change" and saying it was "the right time to allow fresh leadership of the organisation to tackle these challenges and opportunities".

Horticulture Week sister magazine The ENDS Report, has reported that staff at Natural England only discovered he was leaving on the same day. Defra has not responded to ENDS' request for more information.

In addition Natural England’s outgoing chair Andrew Sells, who is due to step down told a select committee that Natural England had "lost a great deal of independence" and that the "pendulum needs to swing back". In particular, he noted that Natural England’s loss of its finance, HR and communications functions to DEFRA had become problematic, ENDS writes.

Before taking over his role with Natural England Cross was also part of Open Access to the Countryside, the networks of National Trails and was the Custodian of the Countryside Code. He also has strong connections to the North East and is a board member and trustee of the University of Teesside

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