Responding to ‘civic vandalism’ – thoughts on the Liverpool Green & Open Space Review Board

Post by Dr Ian Mell

Over the past twelve months Liverpool City Council has been engaged in a review of how it funds the city’s green and open spaces. Due to an reported 58% decrease in funding from central government to the city, its Mayor and elected officials have been forced to rethink how they pay for statutory services, i.e. those services which are legally required, which has raised questions over the short and long-term financing of discretionary services. Liverpool’s parks, gardens, green paths and some of its waterways fall into the latter category and post-2016/17 there are concerns that the city will have no money to manage its landscape.

The Liverpool Green & Open Space Review Board was set up by Liverpool’s Mayor to find solutions to the lack of funding for the city’s landscape. Guided by an Independent Chair and a board of City Council officers/members and local experts the review aimed to gauge the feeling in city about the protection and in some cases the development of green and open spaces.

Whilst it was agreed throughout the review process that the City Council needed to rethink how it manages the city’s landscape, there were contrasting opinions across Liverpool regarding what and why parks and greenspaces should be protected. Over the course of the review the city’s approach to landscape management has been called ‘civic vandalism’, as members of the public have viewed the ‘call for sites’ as a developer’s charter undermining local objections to the redevelopment of parks. It was also clearly apparent that local communities wanted a greater say in how the city’s landscapes were being managed.

As expected several high profile sites including the proposed redevelopment of Walton Hall Park into the new Everton Football Club stadium and the redevelopment by Redrow on Setfon Park Meadows/ Park Avenue incidental space were prominent throughout the consultation process. However, it was the veracity of the support for smaller spaces in Clubmoor, Tuebrook and Childwall which illustrated the multi-functional nature of greenspace to the city’s population.

These spaces are used by walking, cycling, socialising and walking the dog. They are places like Princes Park and Score Law Gardens where families congregate to spend time together. Moreover, Otterspool Promenade and Croxeth Hall Park are places where the natural landscape of the city meets its urban boundaries.

Time and time again the city’s parks, gardens and greenspaces were discussed as provided essential social and ecological benefits to the city’s population. Spatial variations in quality and use though were discussed illustrating a lack of trust within north Liverpool of the council’s commitment to delivering high quality green and open spaces.

Unfortunately in spite of the vast public support for the retention of all green and open spaces in the city Liverpool City Council is having to rethink how it pays for the management of its landscape. The interim report of Green & Open Space Review brings to the fore the breadth of options open to the city and frames these alternative funding opportunities within a wider management context.

Could the sale of some sites be a good way to fund long-term maintenance? Could Community Asset Transfers to greenspace campaign groups provide local people with greater authority to manage their local landscapes? Would long-term corporate sponsorship or an endowment from the city’s two Premier League football clubs meet the annual costs of maintaining sports pitches throughout the city? And could the NHS provide funding for park maintenance as part of their healthy living programmes?

All of the above are options open to Liverpool City Council. What is clear though is that it cannot continue to look to central government to support funding for the city’s parks and gardens. What the Green & Open Space Review is doing is therefore innovative, as it is one of the first cities in the UK to undertake such a broad ranging assessment of how it funds it landscape under an austerity government. The interim findings and recommendations of the review were released in December 2015, with the final evaluation due for release in 2016. What is certain is that if Liverpool City Council are prepared to take positive steps to attractive funding from public, private and community sources is that the city’s greenspaces could be managed in a more sustainable way in the coming years.