Options to enhance the opportunities and benefits offered by Bristol’s green spaces will be explored as part of a “ground-breaking” new project.
The city will become among the first in the country to take part in the Future Parks programme after fighting off tough competition to be selected for one of eight places by the National Trust and The National Lottery Heritage Fund.
The organisations have awarded Bristol a grant of £900,000, which will be used to put together a ‘Parks Prospectus’ – a documenting outlining the city’s green spaces and setting out areas of opportunity to enhance health and wellbeing and sustainability.
It will also explore the potential of parks to “accommodate business activity”, including pay-to-use services.
The council has stated there is no intention to use this process to “sell off parks” and said only options “considered to be compatible with the character, role and use of a particular site” will be accepted.
The funding comes in the wake of biting local government cuts that have seen Bristol’s parks budget slashed from £6m in 2013 to £2m now.
Speaking about the funding, deputy mayor Asher Craig said: “Bristol has great ambitions for our parks and green spaces, but as a council we recognise that we cannot realise these without working closely with our partners.
“In facing the challenge presented by budget cuts, we need to explore new ways to generate income to support parks.
“The opportunity is to find partners who can add value to the parks experience within a service which is free to use and of benefit to all.
“Visiting a park, whether to exercise, meet friends, or simply relax, is good for our health and wellbeing. But not everyone can access a park easily, and consequently, too many people are missing out.
“The Parks Prospectus will identify the potential of parks to deliver health benefits matched to areas of greatest need and invite partners to provide health-based programmes from parks including mental health and physical exercise programmes.”
The council’s proposal was chosen from more than 80 projects submitted by councils and communities across the UK to receive a share of more than £6m of funding and £5m worth of advice and support from some of the country’s leading experts in conservation, fundraising, volunteering and green space management.
Future Parks, the first project of its kind in the UK, was piloted in Newcastle and is designed to help councils find sustainable ways to manage and fund parks and open spaces across towns and cities.
Bristol City Council submitted its plan to put together a ‘Bristol Parks Prospectus’ last year.
Over the next two years, teams in the city will work to develop tools, approaches, skills and finance to create new ways of managing green space, as well as sharing their experience with other councils.
Hilary McGrady, the National Trust’s director general, said: “Today is a landmark moment for the nation’s urban parks.
“This is not just about new ways to fund and support these much-loved community spaces, but completely re-thinking the role green spaces play in our lives and how we can ensure they thrive for generations to come.
“We need to give parks a re-boot and start thinking about them as essential elements of our communities in the same way we think about housing or transport.”
Ros Kerslake, The National Lottery Heritage Fund’s CEO, added: “Future Parks isn’t simply patching-up a few problem parks. It is enabling local authorities and communities to take a longer-term, strategic approach to managing, funding and maintaining them, so future generations will be able to enjoy their many benefits in hundreds of years from now.”