Parks are essential if Big Society is to succeed, says Government

Parks and green spaces are the "catalyst" that will spark the "Big Society" revolution and if they fail, Big Society will fail, a Government official suggested last week.

Neil O'Connor, director of communities and neighbourhoods at the Department of Communities & Local Government, said: "The green sector is in a really strong position to embrace the Government agenda and it regards green spaces as important community assets.

"We recognise quality green spaces are catalysts for the Big Society. There are thousands of places where people have come together to create and manage quality green spaces."

However, green space leaders warned that if Big Society meant wide-scale replacement of staff with volunteers, it would fail.

GreenSpace chief executive Paul Bramhill said: "If we are not careful Big Society could ruin all the good work of CABE, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the strategic planning that gave us a 10-year green space renaissance. Volunteers want to add value through events but don't necessarily want the nitty-gritty of management."

Parks consultant Sid Sullivan added: "Prestige parks will go out because they have the critical mass of finance. But there will still be a need for staff with smaller assets and there will always be a place for council green space management

Parks consultant Alan Barber warned earlier this year that the Government's Big Society idea ignored the motivation of volunteers, which was not to be a source of cheap labour to replace professional gardeners.

O'Connor said Big Society was about "trying to turn the Government upside down so individual groups are in the driving seat".

Land Management Services landscape manager Jon Collins said: "I was amazed he said if parks don't work, Big Society won't work. You realise how much potential power is coming to parks."

- See Interview, p15.

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