Ongoing undercover inspections lead to council cash pledge for 'shocking' park

Local authority pledges more money for maintenance after meeting with Heritage Lottery Fund's parks policy adviser.

Shaun Kiddell carries out inspections
Shaun Kiddell carries out inspections

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has stepped in to rescue a "shocking" park it funded that had been allowed to deteriorate.

The flagship park lost its Green Flag earlier this year and is the only one of the 32 parks inspected so far by HLF parks policy adviser Shaun Kiddell that proved to be of serious concern.

He said: "Everything was rather shocking. The horticulture was appalling. There was no evidence of the basic functions of the park. The litter wasn't collected and the gardens were full of weeds."

Working with regional HLF officers, Kiddell held a meeting with the council's deputy chief executive that led to a pledge of more money for maintenance.

He added: "Our approach is we are here to help you, let's identify a problem, how can we help you resolve it?"

Former Camden parks head Kiddell is 25 per cent through a mostly incognito inspection tour of HLF grant-winning parks. He identifies himself when he finds good parks so he can congratulate staff. The HLF has so far invested more than £700m on 700 park projects.

Kiddell said he has seen much evidence of innovative projects that raise revenue and increase park use. He has seen no quality difference in maintenance levels between HLF-funded and nearby non-funded parks or in the quality of parks maintained by council or contract staff.

"It's taken me by surprise at how good some of the sites are," he said. "We thought this might be quite a depressing role but it hasn't turned out like that. The money has transformed no-go areas. We stepped in just in time."

But Kiddell is concerned about budget cuts. "We're seeing huge reductions in staffing, there's loss of maintenance, there's closure of facilities and this is just the tip of the iceberg," he added. "I don't think the cuts have really started to take effect yet. You can cut staff in year one but you won't see the effects until year three."

Grading system

Heritage Lottery Fund parks policy adviser Shaun Kiddell has introduced a traffic light grading scheme and given one red (urgent action required) and three ambers to HLF-funded parks, with the rest green.

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