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latest update 12 March 2010

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Wirral Council reveals plan to privatise parks

Liverpool Daily Post - by Liam Murphy,

WIRRAL’S parks, countryside and open spaces could be turned over to a private company to manage, under cost-cutting plans being considered by the council.

An asset review has been under way within the authority in recent months assessing all areas of outside space – along with Landican crematorium, golf courses, allotments and sports facilities – which could be included in the proposals.

Cabinet member for culture Cllr Bob Moon said the aim was to improve maintenance standards, gain a closer working relationship with park users and community groups and provide improved facilities.

The council also wants to see the plans result in improved security in parks, better marketing of the facilities and better value for money.

A report to Wirral’s ruling cabinet on the Parks and Countryside Service said the “review includes all of the Parks and Countryside service and the existing Streetscene grounds maintenance contracts, a total contract value of £7.9m per annum.”

The borough’s park rangers and beach lifeguards are among those services which could also be affected by the proposals.

Cllr Moon said the scheme, which remains in its early stages, could result in a private sector company taking on all the facilities on the council’s behalf.

It would work in much the same way that Biffa and Colas were taken on to deal with the borough’s refuse collection and highways maintenance services, respectively. The Colas contract saw many council staff transferred to the private sector company.

Cllr Moon said: “We’re doing the same for the delivery of services in the parks – that is currently done in-house [by Wirral Council], and we’re also looking at crematoria and cemeteries, allotments, golf courses and even grass cutting on verges.”

He said a review of all these assets was almost complete as part of the preparations for seeking a private sector partner.

Wirral’s Parks and Countryside Service is responsible for managing and maintaining 1,505 hectares of land at 272 sites located throughout the Borough.

This includes 60 parks, six country parks, seven local nature reserves, 27 natural areas, 24 sports grounds, 42 green spaces, nine cemeteries, four municipal golf courses and 41 allotment sites.

The cabinet member said consultants had advised the council of three options.

The first would see services kept in-house, but Cllr Moon said: “They are reluctant that we go down that path, because it’s not been very successful in the past. It’s a ‘do nothing’ approach with minimal savings.”

The second option is for some parts of the service to be put together and put out to tender as a block, but others dealt with in a different way – for example, the most profitable areas of the service such as golf courses and crematoria, which could continue to be council-run, or in separate partnerships.

Cllr Moon said the third option being looked at is to “engage a partner to oversee the whole service” although this entails a greater risk.

He said: “If we go down that route, we would have to be confident that you and the service provider are talking the same language.”

Cllr Moon pointed to Hounslow, in London, which has taken this option, and said councillors would be visiting there to see how it works.

Earlier this month, Wirral Council’s ruling cabinet agreed to press ahead with the next steps in the process, which remains in the earliest stages.

Among the areas which could be included is the historic Birkenhead Park, which is acknowledged to be the first publicly-funded park in Britain.

Birkenhead Park, which has recently undergone a multi-million pound refurbishment, was designed by Joseph Paxton and officially opened in 1847, when it was an immediate success.

It was the forerunner of the Parks Movement and its influence was far reaching both in this country and abroad – most notably on Olmstead's design for Central Park, in New York.

Wirral’s Parks and Countryside Service currently manage 70 children’s play areas, of which 45 are located in parks, and 135 soccer pitches.

There is a beach lifeguard Service covering the coast between West Kirby and Seacombe which supervises bathing and safety equipment and oversees use of slipways for the launching of boats using a permit system.

Wirral’s beaches and foreshores are managed by the ranger services in association with the beach lifeguard service and park staff.

This involves beach cleaning, treatment of invasive marsh grasses and zoning of recreational activities such as sand yachting and water skiing.

© copyright Liverpool Daily Post. Reproduced under fair use for the dual purposes of comment and news reporting

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