You will remember that back on 12 December 2012, Cllr Mike Bird kindly allowed me to address the cabinet meeting. A full report of what I said can be found here.
I tabled two documents at the meeting; one from Walsall Network of Parks and Green Spaces, who represent the Friends and User Groups of Walsall's Green Spaces. This document was originally sent directly to the council and no response had been received at that time. The second was a list of ideas that had been put forward on the Facebook Group.
Please read. I'm not going to comment in full just yet but I believe there are some undertones in the email response to these two documents that do not bode well for the future of our Green Spaces and Countryside Services. Just read between the lines....
What must be remembered is that at the time of the meeting we were looking at cuts of £400K. That has been reduced to definite cuts of £300K. Some posts have been saved although confirmation of which posts those are is still awaited. It should also be noted that I have still not yet received a response from Cabinet about the contents of my presentation. The council response is in blue and italics.
"Dear Ms Mason
Representatives of the various Friends Groups met to discuss the priorities requested by Mark Holden(Head of Street Pride) at the last formal Network Meeting (30th September 2012).
Members were aware of the budgetary constraints in the present economic climate but considered that this made balanced, equable restructuring vital.
Whilst recognising that each Green Space presented individual requirements and concerns it was clear that certain issues were common to all. Please see below the key issues identified.
•The continued need to maintain the vital role played by the Greenspace Service in supporting
and developing individual sites was considered of paramount importance.
Some groups felt that without the expertise and knowledge of Greenspace personnel
they would find it difficult to continue. Concern was also expressed that the way in which
restructuring appears to be proceeding would impact upon staff morale and potentially lead
to the departure of skilled ‘green’ professionals which would prove a real loss to the Borough.
The groups wished to place on record their appreciation for the input which they had receive
in the past. It was also pointed out that without the input of GIS the substantial funding grants
obtained by Friends Groups might well be lost. In addition, their specialist knowledge, in relation
to the achievement of Green Flag awards was invaluable. Representatives expressed the hope
that the gaining and retaining of Green Flag status for as many sites as possible would remain
•The retention of the Ranger Service, as a key part of Greenspaces, was considered to be of
major importance for monitoring, enforcement and education input to a sense of visitor
security -a fact highlighted in the public response to surveys commissioned for the Green
Space Strategy Review. In addition several members stated that key public events held in their
green space were only made possible by the presence of Rangers and Greenspace officers,
who in the past had played important roles in staging and supporting events - often in their
own time. Consequently it was considered to be imperative that the Ranger Service remains
under the direct control of the Greenspace Service. Any suggestion that the roles of Gardeners
and Rangers could be combined would undermined the important function that each section
entailed e.g working as trained horticulturists and, in the case of Rangers, fulfilling the tasks
above. Certainly each section could and should work cooperatively but essentially their roles are
•The Urban Forestry Unit is considered a vital service provider, not only supporting the volunteer
tree warden network that does so much to maintain areas of woodland but offering advice
and expertise in sites across the borough. Their status nationally and internationally raises the
profile of Walsall.
•Individual maintenance plans developed in consultation with the specific Friends Group that,
within the constraints of the available budget, meet the horticultural and environmental aims
of green space users and conform to the recommendations of the new Green Space Strategy - a document which needs to be shared more widely with all Friends Groups.
•Some continuity in staff deployment is needed to enable staff to respond to the needs of each
site. It was felt that this would also develop greater commitment and involvement with the
• Members recognised that Walsall was fortunate in having very diverse Green Space with
varying requirements consequently the issue of official opening and closing policies produced
differing opinions. Issues such as Health, Safety and Criminal damage at times when the site was unsupervised were considered important. It was also considered vital that any sites with car-parking facilities should be locked at specific times to reduce anti-social behaviour. There was a general agreement that any staffing policy should respond to times of greatest use so that parks especially had a visible Ranger presence at the busiest times e.g. weekends, public and school holidays and throughout key events. All public consultation exercises have highlighted this as an area of major concern.
• As a result of the close working relationship between Friends Groups and officers of GIS
members felt that they had a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities within the service.
It was generally felt that this was not the case with regard to Street Pride despite the fact that
they had assumed responsibility for Grounds Maintenance in 2009.
Greater clarity of roles and responsibilities in this service was requested together with
information on budget breakdowns and maintenance schedules for individual sites. The view
was also expressed that future maintenance schedules should reflect the aims of the Green
Space Strategy especially with regard to environmental objectives.
The Green Space Strategy Review presents an ambitious and inspiring blue-print for the future of Walsall’s Greenspaces which, regardless of budget constraints, is not only achievable but offers an exciting way forward - something too valuable to be lost."
Not all sites are appropriate but Barr Beacon with in excess of 150K visitors per annum is and the Arboretum also. The fee would not be intended to be excessive, say £1 for all day parking, therefore not prohibitive and cheaper than similar sites in neighbouring counties and borough’s . Possibility of a season ticket for borough residents?
All monies collected after costs to be ring fenced for Green Spaces.
Mowing frequency; designated areas where frequency of mowing is reduced.
Wildflower meadows within formal parks as well as nature reserves.
Shrub and hedge development.
Less formal and civic planting.
Many professional keep fit, military fitness, fat burner type bootcamp now use green spaces on a regular basis plus dog training/obedience classes. There should be a charge for doing this or alternatively a ban on any such use unless approved and licensed by (at a cost) or run by Council leisure based organised activities.
There seems to be a great desire for more open air events to be held in Walsall, not just at the large green spaces such as Barr Beacon, Aldridge Airport or the Arboretum where more musical concerts, boot sales and fairs could be run but at smaller spaces such as King George V.
Playing Fields, Willenhall Park and Holland Park where more local events such as small music events, craft events and sales could be held. Suggestions of similar type events held successfully in nearby places are the music events at Cannock Chase which attract big name acts.
It is not necessary for the Council itself to run such events. Outside promoters and organisers could be used, thereby taking on the financial risk but with some portion of any profits going back to the council. Having said that experienced staff are required (such as those currently in post) who have experience in the organisation of events and can advise accordingly.
The Bandstand Marathon was an enormous success with no risk involved for the council. Similar events run along similar lines could be held.
The council could also look at actively publicising the sorts of open spaces we have available for large open air events by large organisations such as horse eventing type shows and making a realistic charge for the use of the land and facilities.
As well as making building and maintenance savings, the building could then be let or changed into the sort of facility that events or green type industries would find useful to rent for long or short periods or for letting by new small businesses that need workshop space at low rents. Further research would be needed but this building could be very useful in getting new businesses of a workshop nature off the ground within the borough.
There has been a revival in recent years of interest in traditional green wood type crafts and there is a shortage of available courses (suitably and prominently publicised!) in the local area apart from at Chasewater where this type of activity has become very popular. Foraging courses would also be popular if local free events are anything to go by and for the charges being made by private individuals offering such courses in the area. Again retention of appropriate staff would be paramount.
Some green spaces are ideal for renting pitches for food and refreshments etc from mobile facilites.
Making a small charge for using public facilities in green spaces where they are available.
Many schools in Walsall feel the need to organise trips outside of the borough for the practical application of curriculum subjects for field studies. Walsall has a wealth of resources (such as wildlife, plant and insect habitat biodiversity, geological, old industrial, geographical )that are available on the doorstep that are suitable for many subjects. Charges could be made to schools for walks and explorations that are led by the appropriately qualified member of staff on an hourly basis. This would still be cheaper for the schools than travelling outside the borough.
Not in the traditional sense but in an honesty box type sense. This is not an idea for charging residents to use their green spaces but to ask that each time they do use one they consider spending a penny as a donation towards the upkeep of the green space they are using. Anti-vandal type boxes could be installed for the purpose. It’s an idea that is similar to the voluntary donations that are requested at museums etc and very few people miss a penny.