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.
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
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.
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.
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
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 standardsboth 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
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.
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.
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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 casecertainly 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
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
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.
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.
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.