Parks contractors called on to engage in debate over parks' 'flexible future'

Leading consultant says parks must be 'flexible, ambidextrous and transient' to meet challenges.

Parks in future must be more "flexible, ambidextrous and transient" to tackle the challenges of dwindling budgets, according to a leading landscape consultant.

Peter Neal told a meeting of the National Contractors Forum held at IoG Saltex last week that when the post-recession decade of investment in parks came "screeching to a halt" it ushered in not only challenges but opportunities because the sector was forced to rethink how to do things.

Neal gave examples of internationally renowned parks and open spaces that underwent big changes in management and design such as parks in Denmark, Germany, the USA and UK, such as Jubilee Gardens, the Southbank rooftop gardens and the Olympic Village.

"This summer has provided a watershed and benchmark for the industry and contractors with the Olympic Games," said Neal.

"It demonstrates UK PLC can deliver on a global stage. We are phenomenally skilled as a profession. Part of the opportunity and the challenge is to reposition, replace and relocate parks services from one sector to possibly another area of public life," he added. "Our parks may be flexible, ambidextrous and transient in the future."

Consultant Bob Ivison urged contractors to tackle change caused by budget cuts proactively. "As a sector, do we just let it happen and deal with it as it arises or do we get involved now with the agencies and try to influence how that change impacts the industry?" he asked.

Fellow speaker consultant Sid Sullivan, meanwhile, "demystified shibboleths" such as the idea that parks are expensive to maintain - in effect, each person pays 3p a day to look after and have access to our 26,000 parks, he told the gathering.

Horticulture Week editor Kate Lowe gave an update on the Make Parks a Priority campaign, which has attracted the support of more than 30 MPs and is calling for an inquiry into the crisis in funding for urban parks.

She urged contractors to get involved in the campaign: "For contractors, there's an extra impact of these financial pressures - there will be more economically unsustainable tenders coming from local authorities."

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