Paddling pool under threat in massive park funding cut

April 28 2017

COOLING off in a paddling pool may no longer be an option for children in St Andrews on summer weekends.

COOLING off in a paddling pool may no longer be an option for children in St Andrews on summer weekends.

Council budget cuts means the future of weekend opening for the popular tots’ paddling pool in St Andrews park is under question.

Instead, opening may be limited to weekdays only after this month and next year’s timetable is also up in the air.

St Andrews is just one of the 1,652 parks and green spaces maintained by the city council that are all having their maintenance budgets gradually axed over the next three years.

This means all Bristol’s parks will need to generate enough income to fund the £7 million annual cost of running them, which includes grass and hedge cutting, providing play equipment and maintaining car parks and toilets. Despite some parks charging for events and car parking already, there is a £4 million shortfall every year that will need to be made up – or parks will have to close or be sold off.

Tough decisions now need to be made about how to raise the money, which may include charging for services people have received for free in the past like parking, toilets and using areas such as the St Andrews paddling pool.

Now children who want to save the pool from possible closure have written messages of support and attached them to the railings around the pool, which hasn’t yet opened for the 2017 summer season.

But this year’s budget cuts of £400k for city parks mean overtime for park keepers and security workers who open and close the toilets has been slashed.

Martin Weitz, a concerned resident and member of the group Friends of St Andrews Park, said that park users were already feeling the effects of the cuts.

He said: “People have been complaining about people urinating in the park because the toilets are closing earlier.

“Rubbish is piling up around bins at weekends and we’re told that there is no overtime any more to pay for extra collections.

“We’re looking into whether the community can crowdfund the money needed to ensure the paddling pool remains open at weekends. We’ve also asked the council whether volunteers can lock up the toilets so they can stay open later.”

Ashley ward councillor Jude English said if parks are to become ‘cost neutral’ to the council then big changes need to happen to the way they are run.

She said: “In Newcastle the parks are now owned by a charity trust, which means lottery funding and other grants can be applied for, so that could be a solution here.

“By removing the council connection, money would also be able to be raised through sponsorship from businesses, or concessions of shops or coffee chains put into parks to raise funds.

“There are other options to raise money such as running large events and festivals in parks. At the moment, though, there is no plan of how every park in the city is going to be cost neutral.”

A meeting of the council’s Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Commission on April 24 was due to discuss initial ideas to make additional money.

These include holding Christmas markets in parks, allowing camping, having treetop adventure courses, renting space to mobile food vans, running car boot sales and even selling water from a spring on the Blaise estate. Decisions are due by September on a city-wide plan to monetise park land.

Councillor English said that the council doesn’t have any statutory requirement to maintain parks, so it wasn’t surprising that the city council had seen this as a way to cut expenditure.

She said: “I don’t personally see how parks can be made cost neutral. Even if communities rally together and have groups of volunteers taking responsibility for local parks, it takes a huge amount of work to keep this kind of thing going year after year.”

A Bristol City Council spokesman said: “The paddling pool is due to open during the final weekend of April. The pool will initially be open on weekdays and weekends but weekend opening will be reviewed again at the end of May.

“Toilets will be open until 3.30pm Monday to Thursday, 1pm on a Friday and until 7.30pm at the weekend. The parks team are currently looking at options to enable them to stay open later during the week.

 

“All existing floral meadows at St Andrews park will continue to be maintained throughout this year and rubbish collections will continue to be seven days a week.

 

“It is too early to comment on the future shape of parks services. There are further budget cut proposals for next year and beyond, and although the council is actively looking at ways that more income can be raised from parks, service reductions are a possibility.”