Council Cuts Set To Affect Local Parks

Quality of Merton's green spaces set to be hit

Parks in Merton are set to suffer, with the council considering more than £400,000 worth of cuts to help it meet its £26 million budget gap.

The proposals include stopping locking 16 parks at night to save £57,000 - a move which has led to fears of problems with anti-social behaviour.

The plans would also see £350,000 saved by reducing staff and quality standards, with a refocus of time on 25 or so key parks and open spaces.

Other areas would be left unmaintained or maintained to minimal standards unless community "Friends Groups" adopted them.

With Merton Council having to save £10.219m in 2011-12 and £6.221m the following year, a possible £1m could also be taken out of the Parks and Open Spaces budget in the next two years.

Four parks in Merton, including two in Wimbledon and another in Colliers Wood, were recognised with prestigious Green Flag Awards in 2010. South Park Gardens is pictured left.

But Conservative councillors have attacked the plans to stop locking parks at night - saying it would jeophardise hard work for a relatively small saving.

Councillor Linda Scott, from Raynes Park ward, said: "Residents have worked so hard for so long to raise funds to improve both Holland Gardens and Cottenham Park. The threat of increased problems with anti-social behaviour and damage to the investment made in these parks over the last few years is very real.

"Labour’s plans to leave our Borough's parks open, of which three are holders of the coveted green flag award made to the best parks in the country, threaten everything that residents and the last Conservative administration sought to achieve. These proposals are also likely to incur more costs for Merton’s council taxpayers in the long run."

But Andrew Judge, Cabinet Member for Environmental Sustainability and Regeneration, said: "I am appalled by this approach of local Tories, which appears to be to exploit the cuts to gain political support. Merton Council faces deep, unnecessary and front-loaded cuts in grant funding to local councils from the Government. Local Conservatives support these cuts, but then seek to exploit the inevitable outcome."

He said the council was now carrying out a risk assessment for each park and pointed out that Kingston's parks have not been locked for some years, without obvious adverse effects. Next month he will be meeting each park's Friends Group to consider their particular issues.

He added: "The cuts are not set in stone in that they are still subject to scrutiny and what is proposed could be altered, but I have to say that I believe that the scale of the cut to parks and open spaces is unlikely to be reduced and that with a further contemplated cut to the local grant next year, more cuts to green spaces are in prospect.

"It is no exaggeration to say that we face the most serious situation for our parks and open spaces since the foundation of the Borough in 1965. We will have to revise our approach to parks and open spaces in the borough. I expect that Friends Groups will have a crucial role in both the debate and the outcomes for the parks they represent."

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February 3, 2011