Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Twentieth Report


Visit to the North West, 21st - 22nd June 1999


Mr Andrew Bennett MP
Mr John Cummings MP
Mrs Louise Ellman MP
Mr John Randall MP

Dr David Harrison (Clerk)
Miss Jacqueline Recardo (Committee Assistant)
Ms Katie Smith (Committee Specialist)

Mr Alan Barber (Specialist Adviser)
Mr David Lambert (Specialist Adviser)

The Committee travelled from Westminster to the North West and visited a series of parks in four local authority areas: Oldham, Tameside, Manchester and Stockport. The visits were led by officers and members from the four authorities, who also gave oral evidence in front of the Committee.

Oldham MBC

Alexandra Park

Alexandra Park is the largest urban park in Oldham, and is the most central to the core urban area, which is significantly short of open space. Officers introduced the park and outlined its history. It was built by unemployed cotton workers between 1863-65.

Various factors have led to the decline of the park and it was subject to acute vandalism. For example, the palm house, the Committee saw, had most of its window panes broken. The level of vandalism increased once the Council had removed its contents, which shows that there is value in exercising 'conspicuous care'. The Council estimates that the restoration of the Palm House would cost in the region of £150,000.

Compulsory Competitive Tendering (CCT)

The Council outlined its experience with respect to CCT. One of the problems it experienced was the contracting out to 'mobile gangs' with responsibility for a number of parks. On reflection, the Council believes it should have insisted that the contractors allocated dedicated gardeners to individual parks.

In order to improve skills and generate an interest in parks management, the Council has introduced a work experience programme for school pupils. The best of the work placement students are then offered an apprenticeship with the Council.

Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) restoration programme

Oldham MBC was awarded an HLF grant of £2.3m towards the total restoration costs of £3.2 million. Work has commenced on the park's restoration for completion in 2001. The HLF programme was designed to 'undo' various inappropriate modifications which had been implemented over the years and did not respect the fundamental Victorian design principles of the park (eg redesign of the park to accommodate events). This has also resulted in a loss of space. The Council plans to reinstate the park as it was originally designed: open parkland, with a viewing terrace. As part of the restoration programme, the authority surveyed users, which showed that they wanted more of the park given over to gardens.

Officers commented that without the support of the HLF Urban Programme, the decline of the park would have continued.

Stoneleigh Park

The visit to Oldham included an unscheduled stop at Stoneleigh Park which was totally rejuvenated in 1998 and re-opened on 5th June 1999. The Committee was told that similar improvements had been made at nearby Foxdenton and Hollinwood Parks. The restoration included refurbishment of the bowling green; the creation of a new multi-sport facility; and sensory garden and new tree and shrub planting. This transformation was not the result of major grants, nor new Council spending, but had been achieved by imaginative reallocation of existing resources.

Tameside MBC

Officers told us that the Council's policy with respect to play areas was to reduce the number of play areas— from 99 sites of variable quality to 54 improved sites over the course of 10 years. Of these 54 sites, 10 are 'strategic' large play areas and are situated in each of the Borough's main towns. In total, there are 1,200 pieces of play equipment.

The programme began in 1992 and just over half of the play areas have now been built or refurbished. However, funding has now been restricted and no more sites can be restored. Funding is available for essential maintenance only.

The Committee discussed the issue of Government policy with respect to children's play. The officers told the Committee that one of the problems is that no one Government department has responsibility for children's playgrounds and Lottery funding is not available to authorities for the creation of play areas. Instead in order to tap into this funding source, Tameside leases the land to individual groups who then submit Lottery applications.

The Committee visited four play areas within the Borough:

Waterloo Park - this play area was refurbished 8-9 years ago. The site is very near to houses and raised the issue of what is the ideal proximity of play areas to housing. The recommendation is that play areas should be at least 20 metres from houses.

The Committee discussed over the course of the visit the issue of standards—both of park provision and in relation to the quality of facilities within parks. The officers from Tameside mentioned both National Playing Fields Association (NPFA) and Audit Commission standards which related to play areas, and criticised both for being unrealistic. The NPFA "six acre standard" (that is, six acres of park provision per 1,000 head of population), the Committee was told, took no notice of the cost of achieving the standard or of subsequent maintenance.

The next issue which arose was the surface covering for play areas. 'Wet pour' was used in the first site in Tameside. The Council related that it has various drawbacks. It was difficult to repair, very expensive, and its tile format means it can easily be stolen.

Eighteenth Fairway - a play area serving a housing development, built 7-8 years ago by the developer under a section 106 agreement. The Council experimented here with using bark as a surface covering. This tends to work better in larger areas.

Stamford Park - a play area for children up to 14 years old. This is situated within the larger, well used Stamford Park. It was built in 1992 at the beginning of Tameside's current policy on children's play and is one of the Borough's 'strategic sites'. It contains a play area aimed at children up to 14 years old. There is also a sand pit which is very popular. There are, however, pros and cons to it as a play substance/surface cover. For example, sand is abrasive and, as a result, maintenance of surroundings is more expensive.

Oxford Park - this was refurbished 7-8 years ago and is to be upgraded with an arts project for international play day 2000. The Council is holding a consultation exercise to ask local children how they would like to project to be designed. The site also contains a basket ball court which was supplied through a national Sports Council scheme to encourage basketball.

Manchester MBC

Philips Park

This Park, along with Queens, was the first to be established in the City and dates back to 1846. Originally the park contained a variety of bright displays of flowers, two Bowling Greens, Hard Tennis Courts, a Bandstand, Refreshment Pavilion and the first free Municipal Open Air Bath in the country.

Today the park, which is situated next to the Commonwealth Games Development, is depressing, and the area around it has been subject to major redevelopment. Over the years the Park has suffered from lack of investment which has seen the demise in many of the recreational facilities, planting areas and lodges.

The Committee saw that the most used part of the Park appears to be the allotment site, which has a strong commitment from local residents. However, the large majority of the park remains under-used and in need of regeneration.

The Council has reintroduced the popular 'Tulip Sunday', but the numbers who used to turn up have not re-emerged due in part to the difficulty in re-establishing the annual display in people's minds and diaries.

Queens Park

Little of the original Victorian features of the Park still remain. Many of the recreational facilities including tennis, bowls and a paddling pool have disappeared over the years, leaving a small playground in need of major refurbishment.

The Park has a Victorian building in the centre (a purpose built art gallery). Since the mid 1980s the building has been closed to the general public and converted into conservation studios, storage and print room.

As with Philips Park, Queens Park is in need of regeneration and the area around it has been subject to much redevelopment. Consultants employed by the North Manchester Regeneration group are looking at ways in which this regeneration can take place, including a proposal for a horticultural training school outlet and a return to some of the more traditional bedding displays which were once very popular. A bid for Lottery funds to regenerate the park has failed.

There are now no active community groups or formal sports uses of this park. It, along with Philips Park, are two of the few parks in the City which has no 'Friends' groups.

Heaton Park

Heaton Park was a sharp contrast to Queens and Philips Parks, being pleasant, containing properly maintained facilities including a stately home, urban farm and horticulture centre (which apart from being a commercial venture, also grows all the Park's bedding plants) and clearly being well used.


The park is subject to 24 hour security via its CCTV system. Cameras will be installed at all entrances and main buildings by the end of the year. The system's main purpose is to ensure the Park's security at night. This service is also operated on a commercial basis to provide coverage for schools and other local parks.

The urban farm is popular with groups of school children. It is an important educational resource.

One of the issues which Manchester City Council is addressing at Heaton Park is the destruction of the designed open vistas from, for example, Heaton Hall. Many of these were obscured in the 1960s by planting of trees and shrubs which has served to create areas where visitors feel unsafe. Such trees are being removed to open up the key vistas.

Wythenshawe Park

MCC has five designated 'principal parks', of which Wythenshawe is one. It caters for a regional catchment population and as a result attracts 'priority' funding and more staff. The Park is situated next to the largest local-authority built housing estate in Europe (population of 80,000).

The Committee met Ms Edwina Fyse, chair of the Friends of Wythenshawe Park, and had a tour around the shop, safari walk and urban farm, the latter of which is popular with groups of school children. The manure from the farm is used in the allotments. Other commercial ventures include the sale of cattle and meat.

The car park is currently in the centre of the park, but there are plans to move it to the periphery in order to avoid unnecessary traffic inside the park.

Football lessons and leagues are available during the school holidays, free of charge.

Platt Fields

While Platt Fields also offers a wide range of recreational activities and is subject to a number of restoration schemes, it contrasts significantly with Wythenshawe Park in that it still feels tired in certain areas. One of the problems is youths playing football on the bowling greens. This problem was experienced in many of the parks the Committee visited. At Platt Fields the Council has responded by erecting tall fencing around the greens.

The Park is another of the Council's 'principal parks' and has been subject to a substantial new planting programme, for example, the re-creation of the Shakespearean Garden. However the programme has not been entirely successful: of the 250 new trees recently planted, the Committee was told, nearly all were stolen or vandalised.

One of the key, and apparently successful, features of the park was the 'Teenage Village', a shelter and area dedicated and designed for teenagers, created with £4,877 lottery funding. This was introduced to us by Mr Eric Cooper of Friends of Platt Fields group, who also stressed the Friends' role in negotiating with the Council to secure funding for improvements. The Friends group includes a broad representation of ethnic groups. Meetings take place both formally and informally.

Platt Fields is the main events park for Manchester. The Garden Show has been reintroduced to the Park and is now into its third year. Many of the exhibitors are local allotment holders. Other events that take place include fun fairs and fireworks displays.

Stockport MBC

North Reddish Park  

The park is well used by the local community but suffers from a high degree of vandalism. It was almost empty when the Committee visited. Facilities include modern porous tarmac tennis courts, children`s play area, football pitches, bowling greens and a recently built community centre. Problems such as unauthorised motorcycle riding, teenagers damaging /playing football on the bowling green, and general vandalism are fairly common.

An illustration of the problems is that during one night 28 of the community centre windows were broken. The Pavilion is in need of repair. The Council estimates this would cost £57,000.

Reddish Vale Country Park  

Reddish Vale is a very popular country park just outside the centre of Stockport. Some sections of the Park are designated sites of biological importance.

One of the issues the Committee was interested in examining was the extent to which country parks had taken over the role of town parks, and how far funding country parks had resulted in less money being available for traditional urban parks. The visit to parks in Stockport seemed to suggest that this was the case—certainly during the 1970s and early 1980s.

The Committee saw a high level of use and a variety of activities including duck-feeding, dog-walking, fishing, school visits and jogging. This contrasted markedly with the very empty feel of North Reddish Park, and Queens and Philips Parks in Manchester. Reddish Vale Country Park is well used by schools, and was the only park on the visit where the Committee saw organised school visits (pond life was being studied at Reddish Vale with vigour and enthusiasm).

However, the Park which is surrounded by urban areas with fairly high density housing, also experiences problems including off road motorcycling, the dumping of stolen cars and fly tipping.

Ambleside Road Children`s Play Area

One of 110 play areas in Stockport, this is a small playground site situated between a main road and a medium sized housing estate. The play area itself is fenced off by spring loaded gates to keep out dogs. The site is heavily used by the local children and young people. Vandalism, graffiti, and the misuse of play equipment by teenagers are frequent problems.

There is no money available for youth provision (10-18 year olds). Officers pointed out that this group is the least well provided for and causes the most trouble.

South Reddish Park

This medium-sized park has recently had its pavilion refurbished, with a grant for £100,000. Community involvement is strong in this area with very active bowling clubs and community groups. Facilities include bowling greens, play areas, basketball court, and 3 football pitches. The park suffers from typical problems associated with urban sites such as vandalism, graffiti, and teenager group behaviour.

Bruntwood Park

Bruntwood Park is a very popular and well known park attracting visitors from the Greater Manchester area. In 1999 the park was given a prestigious "Green Flag" award for its high standards.

The large, externally-funded play area includes a section for under 7s, play equipment for people with disabilities, and modern equipment and safety surfacing. The 18 hole pitch and putt course is very popular and highly regarded. As a result of public private partnership arrangements, a restaurant /café has recently opened in a restored vinery / conservatory, and there is a snack bar adjacent to the play area.

Other features include a pets corner, duck pond, archery club, orienteering course, and a BMX cycle track. Most of these facilities are centred around Bruntwood Hall (let to private business). The surrounding area of parkland is designated for informal recreation. Due this cluster of high quality attractions, Bruntwood Park is able to generate a high level of its own income (for example, through pitch and put, bouncy castle, car parking and franchises). This is a model which the Council would like to duplicate elsewhere.

Bramhall Park

The Committee visited Bramhall Park where they had lunch. During lunch Stockport MBC officers talked Members through the Council's health promotion policy and the role that parks and green space play in this.

Hollywood Park

This Victorian park suffers from a prolonged lack of investment and competition from other parks in the local area. Its once impressive Victorian infrastructure is dilapidated and vandalised. The Park experiences many of the standard problems including dog fouling, and football being played on the bowling green. This has driven away the bowling club.

The Park is, the Committee was told, in need of £200,000-300,000 to create facilities of a similar quality to those at Bruntwood Park. A number of funding sources were being explored such as the possibility of securing contributions from local retailers, New Opportunities Fund and the New Deal. The Council thought that it was more likely to secure small pockets of funding for individual improvements than funding for a wholesale restoration.

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Prepared 8 November 1999