Bristol City Council has backtracked on plans to slash the entire budget for parks, with the admission the move would “decimate” the service.
But while ambitions to make the city’s public open spaces ‘cost neutral’ by 2019 have been dropped in the face of overwhelming opposition, proposals to cut £2.8m in funding remain in a desperate bid to plug the £108m deficit.
“I would urge the mayor that the drive to commercialisation does not make second class citizens of those who cannot pay for activities,” said Eleanor Combley, joining impassioned cries to maintain Bristol’s much-loved green spaces at a packed meeting in City Hall on Tuesday (November 14).
The Green councillor for Bishopston and Ashley Down continued: “Parks and open spaces are our shared public spaces and our shared wealth.”
Tory councillor for Henbury and Brentry, Mark Weston, warned the council it will “hollow out” the parks that are valued by all if it continues with its stringent regime of cuts.
Plans to make the city’s parks ‘cost neutral’ were slammed as “flawed” and “unrealistic” by campaigners, group representatives and members of the public, who turned out in force to fight for their public open spaces.
Rob Acton-Campbell of Bristol Parks Forum, presented a ‘Protect Our Parks’ petition signed by more than 4,400 people and stressed how the proposed cuts would impact on the health and well being of people – including the most vulnerable- across the city.
In a bid to stem mounting concern over the future of Bristol’s parks, deputy mayor Asher Craig promised that the council will not be selling off any of its open spaces as part of the cost-cutting drive.
She also made the announcement that the council will drop plans to withdraw all funding from parks.
“The cuts could not be achieved without completely decimating the services,” said Craig.
“Our party is making sure that our parks and green spaces are there for everyone to enjoy whilst maintaining free access for all. We want to be positive and ambitious for our parks.
“Bristol’s parks and green spaces are vital for the city’s infrastructure. Maintaining and investing in them is getting more and more difficult, however there is a real opportunity for a thriving city like Bristol to maintain parks and green spaces for the future.”
While opposition councillors welcomed the U-turn, it was acknowledged that the much-valued parks still stand to lose £2.86m as the council struggles to balance the books. The numerous health, social and economic benefits of outdoor green spaces were widely discussed.
“Instead of 100 per cent reduction in budget, it’s 75 per cent,” said Weston.
“What that means is decay. This is not achievable, nowhere else in the country has managed this level of reduction.”
He put forward a motion for the council to reconsider the scale of cuts required and also not to increase charges for voluntary community groups to use them.
The motion was lost by a narrow margin, with 30 votes in favour, 37 against and three abstained.
Making her maiden speech in City Hall, Carole Johnson, councillor for Ashley, said: “Labour shares the vision that Bristol’s parks and open spaces are safe and clean and open to everyone. Thank you for reminding us that Bristol’s and parks are the jewels in Bristol’s crown.”
But she added that “in our city’s time of need”, cultural events and festivals seeking to use the public space also have a responsibility to support them financially.
A new consultation on the city’s parks was launched last week. Take part by visiting www.bristol.gov.uk/parksconsultation.