It may be impossible to put a price on the value of Bristol’s parks, but that is exactly what the cash-strapped council is having to do.
Deputy mayor Asher Craig vowed that the city’s green spaces will remain free for everyone to access as she outlined the difficulties in maintaining them and the need for innovative solutions in the face of cuts.
Parks funding has been slashed by £2.8m to £1.6m, this marks a £4.35m reduction since April 2014 as the council struggles to fill a £108 budget gap by 2023.
It will see a raft of changes come into play across parks, including more and increased parking charges, a drive to bring in revenue through cafes, concession stands and other business enterprises, and the removal of hanging baskets in areas such as College Green and Clifton.
The biggest bone of contention for many was the plan to introduce commercial advertising to the city’s parks and more than 4,000 people signed a petition against the “damaging proposals”.
In response to the widespread opposition, Craig confirmed that large scale, high impact advertising will not be pursued, but smaller, low impact instalments are still on the table – with further work and consultation to take place in affected areas.
The council is also rolling back the proposal not to replace broken play equipment and has instead promised to do further work and consult on this as necessary.
Plans to reduce to the opening hours of Hengrove Play Park will not go ahead, but will be revisited in 2019-20.
Speaking at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Craig said: “We are hugely fortunate here in Bristol to have a wealth of beautiful, vibrant, publicly-owned green parks and spaces and, no matter what, we will ensure they remain free for everyone to access.
“Maintaining and investing in parks and green spaces is getting more and more difficult, but there is an opportunity for a thriving city such as Bristol to develop innovative solutions to maintain them for the future.”
Under the plans to reduce maintenance costs and boost revenue from the city’s parks, new charges will be introduced for anyone using the space for commercial enterprise – from fitness instructors to balloon flights – and there will be more fee-paying activities.
Event organisers will also face a new pricing structure and some councillors and groups have raised concerns that this will hit small, community-led events.
Anthony Negus, Lib Dem councillor for Cotham, said: “Event pricing structure should be flexible and reflect the fabric of the event and value and benefits it brings to the community.
“This price structure is quite restrictive and I think will actually strangle certain types of events. The charges should reflect the ability to pay.”
He added: “The social value of parks and the benefits and well being they bring to the communities of Bristol must not be forgotten.”
Plans for the future running of the city’s parks and green spaces received broad, if often reluctant, support from groups across the city. Advertising was the main sticking point, with many feeling any commercial advertising is a step too far.
Summarising the views of the parks task and finish group, Jon Wellington, Labour councillor for Windmill Hill said: “Of course we all wish we weren’t in the position that we are in in having to make savings, but, as a group, we agreed that the savings can be achieved without compromising our parks.”
He added that advertising in parks was discussed at length and the group felt the public should be listened to.
The council is seeking community groups, organisations and businesses that can help to manage, maintain or enhance local green spaces.