Parks – the beating heart of our city

By on 02/11/2016 in Blog, Cllr Trickett

Cllr Lisa Trickett, Cabinet Member for Clean Streets, Recycling and Environment, blogs on a parks summit she is hosting today at Highbury Hall…

When is a park not a park? No, this isn’t a riddle found in a Christmas cracker – it’s a very current and important question for Birmingham, which is well worth a few minutes of consideration by any citizen.

Cllr Lisa Trickett - Cabinet Member for Clean Streets, Recycling and Environment

Cllr Lisa Trickett – Cabinet Member for Clean Streets, Recycling and Environment

There are many definitions available, but for me, there are two clear answers which will be outlined in this blog:

  1. When their wider value isn’t realised.

It’s all too easy to think of a park as grass, trees, maybe a lake or pond, and perhaps a play area and ice cream van.

Their value to cities is far too great than just being determined by the way we manage them through horticultural contracts. They are really much, much more.

Birmingham’s parks (from big ‘strategic’ parks like Sutton and Cannon Hill, nature reserves right through to pockets of green space) connect communities and contribute to improving life across the city by providing free access to all for informal usage.

These spaces provide opportunities for people to meet, socialise, play, exercise, to improve fitness levels, to learn new skills and improve their health and general well-being. We know from a recent survey that parks topped the table when Brummies were asked what their favourite thing about the city was (earning 49 per cent of the vote!)

They help meet our well-publicised challenge on air quality- trees and green space have been shown to be effective at reducing particulates by 60 per cent; for Birmingham this could reduce the asthma costs to the NHS of £21.8m a year.

They are vital to combat the threat of flooding – the key areas of flood plain in the city offering relief are our parks and open spaces;

Parks boost property values - the proximity of houses to parks equates to at least a five per cent uplift, and it is estimated 20 per cent of the city’s homes fall into this category; with an average house price of £155,000 this equates to £636.6m of added value from parks

There are plenty of other examples of their importance, but one thing is clear – a park isn’t just a park – it’s the beating heart of our city.

  1. When it is classed officially as ‘parkland’ but is nothing of the kind.

You may recall our budget consultation paper published in December 2015 generated some headlines after it was stated the council planned to sell 8 acres of ‘parkland’ per year to help the council absorb the blow of central government budget cuts. I use inverted commas around ‘parkland’ for a very good reason.

There are two potential types of ‘parkland’ that would be looked at.

The land we will release will be identified through a rigorous evaluation process using two national pilot planning tools developed in Birmingham; one that has re-mapped the city; the other works at a site scale; both set out to achieve the best balance for people, well-being and nature.

One type of ‘parkland’ to be looked at would be redundant pockets of land that are technically under the stewardship of our parks service, but are in reality some redundant pockets of open space that haven’t been used in years, if at all.

They will, for example, be patches of overgrown land next to a housing estate that have never been used, have next to no value and are in spots that are prefect for addressing the city’s chronic housing shortage. They will, in some cases, be pieces of land where the blight and disruption they cause could be eradicated if they are used in some other way.

The second ‘parkland’ areas will be large open areas of ill-defined land, where additional housing would help integrate the space into the neighbourhood and where the receipts from the housing would be re-invested to create a much improved local park; these will be designed using the above tools.

We are working down a long list to identify those areas of land that have very low value in their current form – but I have to be totally clear this proposal is NOT about fencing off 8 acres of well-used, high-quality parkland and sending in the bulldozers. It is not a numbers game. It is about doing something that has a positive overall environmental impact.

Thus, the use of phrase ‘parkland’ is somewhat misleading with regards this proposal.

As and when final plans are drawn up, we’ll be open and transparent on how we’ve reached our decisions, but I promise land with high natural capital will not be relinquished in this way.

The future of parks is the topic of discussion at a summit I am hosting today (November 2).

I look forward to discussing parks with a range of people who share my passion for them – we want to work together to come away with some inspirational and innovative plans in the form of a People’s Vision, to ensure they continue to be the city’s beating heart for many years to come.

Footnote: You might also be interested in some key stats relating to Birmingham’s parks (2015-16 figures)

  • 3,700 hectares of green space
  • 591 parks and public open spaces
  • 115 allotment sites/7,453 plots
  • 251 play areas;
  • 763,188 trees (excluding Highways);
  • 48 reservoirs & pools, 11 of which have in excess of 25,000 cubic meters capacity
  • 16,000 volunteer days managed/provided by Rangers, Service Providers and Friends Groups.
  • 3,282 individual ranger led volunteers
  • 808 community and Ranger led events held in parks attract in excess of 400,000 participants
  • 160 Ranger led school events involving 4,789 pupils
  • 400 work placements and 820 student training days

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