Parks hit again in council budget cuts

Maintenance teams, plant spending and street trees all face cutbacks as local authorities battle to meet savings targets.

Parks: negotiations are continuing on how budget reductions will bite on communities’ green spaces - image: Morguefile
Parks: negotiations are continuing on how budget reductions will bite on communities’ green spaces - image: Morguefile

The latest local authority spending round for 2012-13 is seeing more parks services facing cuts of up to 20 per cent, while a number have won a respite from the axe thanks in part to "front loading" of their budget reductions in 2011-12.

Negotiations are continuing in many cases over exactly how budget reductions will be met by individual departments.

Tameside Council is still consulting on cuts to its budget for 2012-13, which could see more than £1m stripped from its combined street-cleaning and grass-cutting budget, reducing the spend to £3.4m.

Meanwhile, a third is to be cut from the tree management budget, taking it to £200,000. Other proposed cuts include 25 per cent - £55,000 - from its spend on bedding plants, hanging baskets and tubs across the borough. A further saving of £100,000 is proposed from making a park cafe a self-sustaining social enterprise.

At Oldham, cuts of more than £1m have been earmarked for parks and green-space services. Areas proposed for savings include security provision for parks, operational budgets and apprenticeships.

Sheffield City Council announced proposed cuts for 2012-13 at the end of January of £1.2m - 17 per cent of the £7m that it spends on parks, woodlands and open spaces. Parks and green spaces normally receive a further £4m from "grants and other funding sources" according to the local authority.

Cost-saving measures proposed by the council include merging and reducing parks and open-space teams and removing support for the annual environment weeks, litter-reduction programmes and local groups that enter In Bloom competitions.

Other savings were set to come from a reduction in the city's bowling greens. Following the budget's progress through full council on 9 March, an additional £150,000 for investment in parks has been found.

Liverpool's green-space management budget was set to be reduced by just over £1m to £8.8m following a cut of nearly 22 per cent last year. It will stop short of proposals published last autumn to cut maintenance completely at all community parks. The council is pulling out of the Green Flag Awards scheme.

In the London Borough of Brent, councillors are seeking cuts of £200,000 this year to grounds maintenance with further "savings" of £300,000 pencilled in for 2013-14.

Meanwhile, a street trees contract has been re-tendered with a possible £75,000-a-year reduction in the budget.

The London Borough of Merton is considering more than £400,000 of cuts to parks services to meet its £26m budget gap. Proposals include cuts to staff and maintenance and handing over some parks to local community groups. An end to locking some parks at night is mooted and the closure of several paddling pools.

Newcastle has agreed to reduce the frequency of maintenance affecting 10 jobs and reducing its budget by £230,000. It will change from parkto area-based upkeep teams affecting a further 10 jobs to save £289,000, while tree-inspection services will see cuts of £142,000.

At Leeds City Council, the budget for parks and countryside for 2012-13 goes down £620,000 from last year's total budget of £10.5m - a cut of almost six per cent. Since 2010, the number of posts in the parks and countryside department has fallen from 192 to 143.

Bradford City Council's budget for parks and green spaces has been cut by £184,000 to around £4.9m.

While no overall details were available for the London Borough of Croydon, the green space team is to be restructured, which "suggests staff cuts", a spokesperson said. A procurement exercise has identified £200,000 of savings.

As reported last week, Sefton is to save a further £850,000 in 2012-13, taking the total reductions to date to around 30 per cent of the service budget - £3.6m. This includes losing about 20 officer posts and around 25 per cent of site staff.

York is reviewing gardener and park attendant roles and reducing upkeep levels, with the loss of three full-time posts, while a review of the ranger service could lead to the loss of one post.

London Borough of Camden parks and open spaces head Jessica Gibbons said this year's budget has gone up £360,000 to just over £2m, but the authority needs to save £200,000 through maintenance specification.

Brighton is cutting its ongoing funding of £30,000 per annum for Brighton In Bloom but will provide transitional funding this year to launch the initiative as an independent group.

Revenue targets

Areas earmarked for increasing revenue:

  • Paid-for maintenance works.
  • Introducing car park charges.
  • Increasing allotment rents.
  • Increasing charges for hire of sports facilities.
  • Increasing charges for burials.
  • Public paying full cost of dedicated benches/trees.
  • More events.

Local authority budgets - Boroughs winning respite this year

Councils with no or minor reductions targets linked to parks for 2012-13:

- Manchester City Council

Manchester's cuts were front-loaded last year so no budget or staff cuts this year, but the council is embarking on a big income push to raise around £250,000 a year.

- Wirral Borough Council

Parks and green spaces budget for this year is £5.1m, largely unchanged from last year.

- Wakefield Council

Street-scene manager Ian Jones reported no reduction or savings target linked to parks, grounds maintenance, arboriculture or forestry. The council is, however, reducing bedding and replacing with pollen-rich plants. Last year, savings of £164,000 were made through reduced grass-cutting frequencies across Wakefield's parks and verges.

- East Riding of Yorkshire

The parks and open spaces budget remains virtually unchanged at just over £1.4m.

And one that got an increase:

- Dudley Council

Urban environment director John Millar said the total budget for Dudley's open spaces, which covers parks, nature reserves and the green-care services, is up by £100,000 on last year to £5.5m. He explained that this reflected the level of service the authority provided.

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