Interviews

Lindsay McCulloch Parks & Open Spaces Interview

J: so first of all, could you describe your role

L: well I’m actually the planning ecologist so my primary role is related to the planning process which used to be quite separate but there’s a lot more overlap these days, partly on the policy front where we’re trying to get initiatives such as natural capital, biodiversity, net gain stuff like that, integrated into the local plan but also effectively enacted through parks and greenspaces. But also we have an issue with European sites so SPAs, SACs, and the Ramsars are wanted as well over in the New Forest particularly, where recreation pressure is having an adverse impact so natural England said “right you’ve got to find ways of reducing pressure” so what we will be looking to do over the next few years is to improve the footpath infrastructure in our greenways, which our semi-natural green spaces, so that they can better cope with an increase in dog-walking and other walking. But also, we need to find ways of managing so that they’re more attractive environments to visit. They were set up in the late 80s and early 90s and a lot of the infrastructure in there was put in at that point and it’s been patched and in the meantime, it hasn’t had any wholesale works to it.

You mentioned semi-natural environments, so what would be the definition of semi-natural within the city?

Those are habitats that are not as intensively managed as, say, central parks where you have shortcut amenity grassland and you have flowerbeds and shrub beds and standard trees. Semi-natural habitats will be areas of woodland, meadow, streams, wetlands; areas that people would be more inclined to look at and say, “Oh that’s natural” or “That’s more like the countryside”.

So is it more about perspective then from a normal person’s point of view to make it look natural, not actually necessarily being… say the New FOREST is a huge natural space and the common has what appears to be natural spaces

it’s funny, it’s probably a matter of definition because technically the New Forest is not the original wildwood. The New Forest is actually a human-created environment and the sites that we’ve got in Southampton I suppose are smaller versions of that; they’ve been heavily modified, they’re not the wildwood (in the past we’ve cut the woodland down, or we’ve used to grow as grassland) and we probably used the streams. As urbanisation has happened we stopped doing that, we don’t have livestock in the city… apart from a few chickens. So those spaces have been able to revert back to a more natural state, and that’s where the wildlife tends to be primarily. There are in other cases quite good quality habitats, we have a lot of them designated as sites of importance to nature conservation, so semi-natural is a technical description, I think it probably refers to the habitats and places that people would call natural. But it’s not big-scale countryside. The new forest is big-scale, big landscapes, you know

What is the city’s relationship with the New Forest then?

Well, I think that would be interesting. I suspect a lot of people, perhaps out more affluent residents will go off there quite regularly; walking, dog-walking, maybe wildlife watching bird-life watching things like that. Perhaps going to visit the heritage areas as well, trips to the cafe stuff like that. Some of our less, I suspect our less affluent residents probably don’t have much of a relationship with it at all. And in terms of the city we are in the sort of hinterland of the New Forest, so we put a certain amount of pressure on the new forest through recreation but also through things like all the economy activity going on in the city, it draws traffic through the forest so there’s pollution coming off. So, we have potentially a negative effect, but also the positive effect; people visiting, taking money into the forest and that supports their economy.

From the people I’ve spoken to on the Common. Most of them spoke about how they got into the New Forest. None of them actually spoke about using public transport, they only do it because they have cars and dogs. So when you said about bringing traffic through the new forest, it seems either people are going there from their own volition, so they drive their car to there then they’re coming back which is not public transport it’s a lot of people going there in their own cars. Do you think that the lack or the cost of public transport to get there, so trains go upwards of £10, is that a barrier do you think for people’s enjoyments? You mentioned less affluent people, do you think that there are barriers in terms of the way the city runs its relationship with new forest to making sure most people can get their enjoyment out of it.

I don’t know that it’s fundamentally the relationship with the new forest that’s the barrier. There’s the New Forest national park authority and there’s also the new forest district council, so we work with them. I think it’s infrastructure. The roads going into the forest generally are quite fast, busy roads. personally, I wouldn’t cycle on one of those. And in terms of walking, the interesting areas are a long walk from Southampton. Public transport is definitely very poor. Again, it’s infrastructure, the Rail-line doesn’t go to Lyndhurst it goes to Brockenhurst and then it goes on down to Lymington; that’s right along the bottom edge of the forest. The buses are not an awful lot better, there’s quite a lot of changes that you have to do, and they don’t tend to go to perhaps the open forest, they are designed to connect the villages: they get people from A-B. That is a consequence of the de-regulation of buses. Buses run on a commercial basis, so they only go where they can make money. So these sporadic patterns of visiting are going to be difficult. I think you do tend in the forest, I’m not sure whether it’s the national park authority or who runs it, but there’s a summer-time bus service round. Probably an open-top service which presumably drops people off. But as with a lot of South Hampshire in general it’s the infrastructure that really dictates how people are able to get around.

Ok so if people might be struggling to get access to stuff like that just because of infrastructure.

Yes, it’s set up for the car, and the lorry

Not public transport?

Not public transport. And at the moment not cycling although that is something we’re looking to change.

So how then, if people aren’t necessarily getting engaged with the new forest, non-affluent people, how is the city trying to engage with people within Southampton’s parks infrastructure, stuff like open spaces, the greenery and city centre, the common. How is the city trying to build up some natural engagement with the population here in the city?

Well at the moment our ability to engage with the population is limited because of resources. Parks team have suffered very big cuts so we’re really down to a skeleton basis. What we do do is we provide support to friends’ groups, so where a group of local people have a particular interest and set themselves up as a group we will work with them to manage the sites; they do things like litter picks, they can run education events, guided walks all that kind of stuff. So, we will support the community, but the days when we were able to sort of just go out and initiate sort of really involved activities ourselves are long gone at the moment.

Is there much education. So, you said about friends groups organising stuff, when there are two major universities and a few large secondary schools, have you seen much interaction with them in terms of education.

Well, we have an education officer who’s based at the Hawthorns. He works with schools, they can either come to the common or he will go to their schools. It is a service they have to pay for. The biggest obstacles we find, it tends to be the same schools, not a huge number. The school curriculum is very pressured so it’s very very difficult to get into the secondary schools because so much of their time is just allocated to delivering the curriculum. There’s also an issue of teachers sort of lacking an experience in teaching outdoor activities. So they don’t necessarily think that they’d like to come do some outdoor stuff, or if they do it tends to be the education officer going out working with them and that’s it, done. So trying to get sort of a developing situation where the school is sort of perhaps, score more particular classes: they come, they do something, then they go back to their school and actually they continue to do it and then the children following on continue to do it and come back for support doesn’t seem to happen. We haven’t got a comprehensive education service and I suppose the other thing is that previously, it would’ve been quite easy to get into schools because they’ve been local authority maintained, now quite a lot of them are academies who vary in their ease with which you can work with them. University? We do have some contact but to be honest it’s very hard work working with a university. There’s a degree of silo working, also it’s trying to find out who does what, that’s a challenge, obviously people work according to the research budgets and grants and stuff they can get, and we haven’t got any money. I’ve certainly worked with students, I’ve had quite a lot of students who’ve done dissertations for me. I’ve worked with Ian Williams, Malcolm Hudson, and also a few people over in the biological sciences school as well, but it always seems to rely on us going to them, we don’t seem to get people coming back to us saying “We’d like to do so-and-so, what do you think about it”, “is that right”, “can you support us.”.

Is that because of the knowledge that this department isn’t particularly well funded anymore, and may not have the resources there in the first place?

I think it’s always been a struggle, trying to get the university, particularly University of Southampton, to come out of its campus, it’s a challenge. The conservation volunteers, they’ve worked on the common for a long time, and we do get groups of students being brought on to do lectures and things like that, sort of led by the tutors and s tuff, but there’s rarely any real engagement. We’re not sort of called in to provide any sort of inputs or anything in, so it’s sort of almost like “oh it’s just there for us to use and then we can go back again”, which is a shame.

The picture painted so far seems to be a fairly sad outlook on the future of parks in this city, it seems that there’s a lack, not necessarily as a fault of the city council itself, but just not enough focus from central government giving funds out for what is a very important part of city life, seems that’s been put to the side and other things brought to the forefront.

I think, in microcosm, it exemplifies the current government’s attitude to the environment, they’re really negative on it, although it will be interesting to see what Michael Gove does, because he’s made some interesting comments. Generally, parks have been underfunded for a long time, this is not a new situation, and there has been a committee of MPs looking at this and they’ve just published their report. It’s at odds with a lot of the work that’s being done in relation to other aspects such as air quality issues, health issues, those sorts of sectors are coming to the conclusion that green infrastructure and parks are absolutely critical to addressing problems. I’m hoping that we’ve got to a point where we’ve reached the low point and it will dawn on people that parks are absolutely critical to urban life, not just Southampton but urban life generally. If you haven’t got good quality parks people are going to have poor-quality lives because their environment is going to be not suited for them. Certainly from a mental wellbeing perspective, going into a park is a really brilliant way of maintaining your mental health, and if you haven’t got those parks then obviously urban areas are going to end up with much more stressed populations and much higher levels of poor mental health. So, I’m hopeful that as the penny drops, we perhaps get some support from central government, but also it enables us to bring in resources from different avenues. I’m currently working with a colleague in public health and she’s working on  a plan to address childhood obesity and we’re looking on running a little pilot project in one of our deprived areas, but it’s got a really nice semi-natural site as well as the formal greenspaces, and we’re going to try and work with the schools, persuade the schools to get involved, and community  organisation which has actually received a large grant to do a range of work within their community, one strand of which is environmental work. We’re going to use biodiversity of the means to take children out into the environment and get them active; get them doing surveys, get them running around doing nature trails. Just get them rounding round! Once we’ve got the children ding that through their schools, the idea is to then run more activities for their families, taking them onto this semi natural greenspace and although it’s not a massive estate, apparently there are people on the estate who don’t know this site exists which is another facet of modern urban life where you don’t get to explore. And if their parents didn’t explore and find these places, it’s unlikely that they will. So, parks have a key role in terms of improving the health and wellbeing of the population and then maintaining, their potential is huge. Also, they’re green infrastructure. We know from lots of work that’s been done that it helps with air quality, it’s good for surface water runoff/management, we’ve got areas with quite high surface water flooding risk. It’s also good for urban cooling and as the population of the city grows and the built fabric because denser we’re going to end up with parts of the city that do suffer from high temperatures particularly in heatwaves. So where we’ve got parks around them, A. you’ll get the evaporative cooling to drop the temperatures, but also people then have options of going out into the park, to get out of their buildings where it would either be too hot or they can’t afford air conditioning, and they can get shade or just get some space.

The health benefits are undeniable, so it’s a shame that government hasn’t focused on that. We have a constantly urbanising population as you said, more and more people moving into cities away from the countryside. In days of old it was a normal thing to be fairly connected to the outdoors, but in a recent wildlife trust survey, 7/10 people said they were losing touch with nation and 13% had spent 2 or more years away from the countryside. Places like London, where you’ll have miles of nothing but concrete. But then you have mayors like Sadiq Khan saying they want to increase the number of trees in London by 5%, that’s ambitions because they aren’t just things you can plant anywhere. I know in the masterplan in Southampton there are plans to put trees on every avenue in the city and to increase number of treelined avenues.

Trees are a key tool for greening the city and dealing with a lot of the problems I’ve mentioned, they’re also a bit of a logistical nightmare. The roads are chock full of services and it’s quite like dealing with the statutory undertakers, all the phone gas and electric water people. In some places trees are the wrong thing. If you’re looking at an area with very tall buildings, particularly in respect with pollution, the last thing you’d put in is a tree, because you end up with the canopy trapping all the pollutants on the road, down at the level where people are. So, in that respect you’re better off putting in things like green walls. So, trees are good, trees need to be thought about, and it’s not just about putting a tree where it’ll go, it’s got to be the right tree as well, some trees exacerbate problems, they chuck out what we call volatile organic compounds which in hot weather can be things like ozone. So thats a problem. we do have an ambition to increase our tree canopy. It’s not bad at the moment, we just had a tree survey assessment done, by the university, summer of last year, I think it was school of engineering & environment organised it all, I think 10 part-time interns and a full-time intern. The report’s just being finalised, we might have a canopy cover of around 17/18%. My colleague, the senior tree officer, who might be worth talking to, I think she’s trying to look to getting it up to 25%.

That’s a lot

That is a lot, yeah. But that is doable, it’s about the average that urban areas are aspiring to, some have much more, and that’s not just street tress it includes woodlands too, so in some areas there’s quite a lot of canopy cover.

So is the focus more then, or is it equally footed between expanding parks and building more/larger greenspace or just that wilding and re-naturing of stuff like roads and already existing plants and concreted areas?

We haven’t really got the option to do much expansion. Southampton is a very tightly bounded area and we are largely built up. There are a handful of site that we would be perhaps interested in acquiring or getting access to, but in terms of creating large new greenspaces, we haven’t got that option. So, we’re having to think creatively and say well, if we can’t expand our parks, perhaps we can convert some of our grey infrastructure into semi-green infrastructure. So, if we have a couple of parks perhaps in different parts of a residential area it would make sense to green up the streets which connect those two parks together. We’ve then got a green network, good for wildlife, but research shows that people are people are more inclined to walk and cycle along green streets so that would then change from just being an unattractive environment in which to walk and cycle into, hopefully, an attractive environment. So then instead of hopping in the car to go to the park, which a lot of people do, they get onto their bike or they work. Then they’re getting some recreation and some activity without even being in the park. So, it extends their visit effectively. I think this is the way very dense cities will have to go, and we are one of the most densely populated cities in the country.

What is the current population of Southampton?

I think the mid-year estimate is around 254,000. In terms of density that puts us about third. In terms of thinking about the London boroughs, that fits us in-between the inner London ones which are around 3/4 thousand people per hectare I think it is, and the outer boroughs which are less dense than us. So, our parks have to take a lot of pressure, increasing pressure, so the amount of open space per person is declining. We’ve had a few losses of open space and a few gains, but the real issue is just our population group. If we are going to make any significant increases it will have to be through creative use of other infrastructure.

Is this all going into the masterplan, or is it secondary to that?

It will have go in. One of the initiatives which we’ve mentioned in our city centre action plan is something called the Green Grid, which was roughly sketched out, but only applies to the city centre area. The local plan, which is currently on hold at the moment because the planning policy team are otherwise engaged, will cover the whole city. The green grid will be extended to the whole city. At that point we’ve got our existing assets, we’ve got our parks, we’ve got housing, we’ve got trees on the highways (we are responsible for all the highway trees). We can map those, we can there see where the gaps are, where there aren’t any connections. We will probably then use a combination of planning policies to fill the gaps, and it might be that a gap is over quite a big chunk of industrial or development land. So, we might then say “ok, we’d like things like green roads, green walls, and some street trees” to provide the connections to these other existing areas of green. That would be delivered by developers. We might look at an area and think “that’s a residential area that’s not going to change”< so the only real options we’ve got is to get trees into the streets. That would be up to us to do, possibly through initiatives; I’ve got a colleague working on air quality at the moment, they’ve had grants from central government to do all that, they’re working with Highways England and are trying to get some money through the highway budget. All different sorts of pots will put it in and get green infrastructure in there, and what goes in will be dependent on the constraints of the site and we we’re trying to achieve. You know the latest research says hedges are far better than trees for dealing with pollution from cars because funnily enough the vegetation is much closer to the source of the pollution so actually it gets picked up, rather than swirled around and then picked up by the leaves on the plants. So, we might be thinking well, we’ve got the space perhaps we could put a hedge, or we could put curb side vegetation, a row of shrubs. The other big elephant in the room with all that is how to maintain it. Our revenues budgets are the ones effectively being cut, capital moneys are not such an issue, but it’s how do you maintain it afterwards.

People have noticed a lack of maintenance in some areas. Some of these have been residents for 30+ years in the city and their perspective seems to be that, whilst the parks are lovely, and they enjoy them, they have seen a decline. Things don’t ‘feel’ right, compared to what they were used. Maintenance is expensive, but do you think it’s important for the perspective to be kept up, or to just focus on making them ‘feel’ fight?

The problem in terms of maintenance is that there is less maintenance. I think people haven’t grasped the fact that this is what public spending cuts look like. A lot of the talk on public spending cuts has been about cuts to benefits, but, it’s also about fewer people being required to do the same amount of work. It just doesn’t work. So, you’re not going to get such a high level of maintenance. We’ve having to prioritise, there are certain really key sites. Central parks, for instance, is one of the prize assets so maintenance levels on that have been kept quite high. Other areas, the question has been asked if we need to maintain as intensively, is it actually a good thing to do? And the response from some areas is no; we’ve been driving biodiversity out. We have a general mentality of gardening in this country; grass has to be cut short, but grass is not supposed to be cut short grass has to grow long and flower to have any real benefit. If you cut it all short you lose the wildlife. So, where you’ve got public parks on the sites which are less key like margins, areas further away from housing, some of the management is not as intensive as it used to be. We’ve got some areas of grass which we’re going to manage as meadow rather than just gang-mow it like we used to. That is the twin approach of being better than wildlife, and we have a statutory duty to further the conservation of biodiversity. Also, we haven’t got as many people to mow the grass and we haven’t got as much equipment. Whereas previously a mower broke, you go and get a spare, there aren’t any spares any more, you have to go off to get it fixed and go do something else. I think unfortunately there has been less intensive management in some areas and what there hasn’t been is information sent out to the public to explain why. That, I expect, is political. We still find that members expect the same level of work with fewer staff which gets to the point where it isn’t physically possible.

The perspective might be misinformed, then. When I ask people about how they feel about parks and what they want to see, their opinions don’t match up to reality because they don’t have that information.

Exactly, there’s a big information deficit, and I suppose it’s twofold: we need to tell people about the management we’re doing and why we’re doing it, that requires a resource which we’re short off, but there’s also a fundamental lack of understanding of wildlife needs. If you want to see wildlife, and a lot of people want to go into the parks, not saying “Oh I’m going to look for wildlife”, but because they might see some birds around and there is that general interest. You need to provide wildlife with the right habitat structure, with the right space, undisturbed areas, the right species. I think if we could explain to people that some of the management changes we’ve done should help the wildlife which will make the places more attractive as they’ll be more interesting places to go to. If we could explain THAT, then the majority of people will be happy. There will be a minority who will never be happy because they think everything should be like a garden, but these are not gardens, we haven’t got any formal gardens. These are formal parks and semi-natural sites. We have a tiered level of parks. The level of intensity of management will be related to the different type of park and the features present. But we have an education job to do although I think we’re failing at the moment.

How would you like to see it implemented, given the current resource budget?

I think we would perhaps need an initiative from higher up the organisation that says that they’d really like us to go out and engage people more actively. We have some people who are doing other things, and if we have that initiative which says this is important, and prioritise this over some of the other work, we might be able to bring people back and then do some education and community/public engagement. It’s the key, to get this as a priority, that would be the most effective way of doing it. I have to say, the focus of a lot of the council’s work is not environmental, it’s all about economy. I’m not sure the penny has dropped as to just what an asset (the parks) the city council owns and manages in terms of the economy.

Since the economy went downhill, since 2008, the economy has taken precedence over everything. Austerity has been in place since 2010, we’ve had every discussion being about what money is being lost/gained, particularly with Brexit now happening. Back in Wales, where I’m from, we received a large sum of money to improve the town, but it was instead put on a bridge. Is there going to be a loss in terms of European schemes as the EU seems to have more focus on the environment in comparison to our own government?

We haven’t got any park-related projects at the moment. Other departments have projects, mainly around sustainable transport and things like that. I don’t think European funding would make a massive difference, I think what would be interesting is if DEFRA ever gets it’s 25 Year environment plan sorted out, but at the moment the 25 years seems to be the time they’re going to take to right the thing… but if that comes out and has the right concepts in it, and approaches, that would be very helpful. From what I’ve seen they are talking about natural capital, biodiversity net-gain, those concepts. That could be helpful because that might shift the balance in terms of giving huge amounts of money to farming even though it’s a relatively small part of the economy, and shifting money towards paying for the benefits that people receive. So, farmers would get money not just for food production but management too, however they’re not the only land managers so if they get the money for delivering those services so should urban areas who are managing parks which are ALSO delivering many of those benefits, they have natural capital. We haven’t done an account, and that’s something I’d like to do, get a natural capital account sorted out. Then assuming any money, we used to send to Europe is now used to pay grants for natural capital management, delivery of ecosystem services, we should get a share of that money. We get a little bit of money off government at the moment through the high-level stewardship scheme, and it’s peanuts compared to what farmers get for producing food, so if we get a shift in terms of how that funding is distributed that would be helpful.

Is it important that this happens in the short or long term? DEFRA’s plan is for 25 years, but are we too little too late to save urban parks?

I don’t think it’s a matter of too late, the parks are all protected in planning policy. We might have a few losses and a few gains, but the parks are going to stay there. Too little? Certainly, too little, in respect to their potential for the wellbeing of the population, there should be far more investment in their management. I think we’ll keep going and will look for opportunities and I would hope that, as Brexit is clearly going to happen in a couple of years’ time, if we’re to have any relationship with the EU we’ll have to send money, but we’ll still have some money available. They’re clearly going to have to sort out payments for farmers as their funding will stop in 2 years’ time. They’re going to have to sort that, if they’re going for funding of natural capital and the benefits received, that’s going to have to be sorted out very early on. If they do it in its broadest sense, that funding will be available in a relatively short period. The crucial thing would be to get our case together actually, these are the benefits these parks and other green infrastructures are providing.

In America there’s a focus on private developers doing much of this green development through government pressure. Are there any attempts to get private developers to do these things for us?

We haven’t quite got the same financial set-up here. There is work looking at green bonds. I was at a meeting last week and there was somebody, a finance person, working in the bond market and he was saying that there’s not currently the evidence to demonstrate the financial return that you get from investing in natural capital. So that is work that needs to be done, there needs to be more monitoring, more data that can be used to quantify the benefits received which could then be valued. So green bonds are not an option right now. Some places have been toying with the idea of having green business rates, other places take endowments from developments which they then use to generate a revenue which can be used to manage parks. In the states they have this really good system called Tax Allocation Districts, where you have a project and around it there’s a zone placed. Within that zone, the expectation is that people benefit from that project, and therefore they have a pre-set that they have to pay which then goes to fund that project. It would be ideal if we could do with that, but I suppose it’s called council tax and it goes into a big general pot. At the moment we have access to capital money through community infrastructure, but as with everything it’s the revenue side, trying to ding out where we can get revenue from, so that might be through DEFRA funding or ideally other initiatives to set up endowments.

This is all part of the natural clash between environmentalists who believe that the environment should come first and private companies/government who look at it in terms of financial risk. In 25 years we may get benefits back from green works, but the government works on 5-year cycles, are you hopeful that things can be done in the long term?

Well actually yes, because you’d be surprised to find in the private sector, lots of building companies have now ‘got it’. They are driving a lot of this agenda because it’s not just the return they receive in the long term, or the risk of return, but in terms of cost avoided as well. Insurers are starting to look at it because clearly where you have green infrastructure that’s helping to reduce flood risks that reduces their costs. If somebody is trying to run rail infrastructure and it’s overheating, the rail companies can’t run them, and they lose out, so you need something to help keep things cool. So, there are various elements of the private sector that are doing some very good stuff. CIRIA, they’ve been driving a lot of stuff. A lot of the big construction consultancies have been working on things like natural capital, biodiversity net gain, and have been working on protocols. So, we’ve got a mismatch: everybody at ground-level is getting their heads around this issue and looking at ways of making things work and trying to work out where to get funding from, and joining it all together because we’ve got lots of actors who are all going to have a benefit, but they need to interlock so that you get the overall management to deliver the multifunctional greenspace/infrastructure. What we seem to have now is a lack of political recognition of this. They haven’t spotted the fact that it is a massive benefit, this hugely important asset, and is very valuable. All the evidence out there points to increases in property values and economic activity if you enhance the green infrastructure in an area. You get businesses opening and offices wanting to come into that area. So it seems to be that the gap is at the top political level.

This whole picture has come together then, that we’re at a low point because of government. Even though that some people are seeing these problem, it’s not being brought to the forefront. Are you hopeful that this will be resolved and that finally, one day, it will be at the forefront?

Yes. I think the momentum is building, the evidence is being brought together. The reality on the ground is that we are using green infrastructure to help solve problems now even though people higher up have not got it yet. We need to do some more work. We need to show, very clearly, the benefits we’re getting and the benefits we could get by investing more in the parks. It’s just inevitable, it will get there eventually. It is slow. I’ve been doing this for 20 years and we still have some of the same attitudes, but in a lot of respects things are a lot better than they ever used to be. The idea of a house builder actively seeking to include biodiversity into its developments is so different to when I started. So, we are getting there but it just needs more work, more advocates, more people to really articulate how important things are, to champion biodiversity, green infrastructure and access to it. In the parks and right through to the countryside.

That starts at a young age with schools and education

Yeah, there’s a lot evidence that shows if a child doesn’t experience the natural environment when they’re young then they won’t have an interest in it when they’re older and it means they won’t introduce their children to it. The consequences of that can be very poor for their choices in terms of health and wellbeing; poor diet, no exercise, stuff like that. It is absolutely critical to get children out into the natural environment whether it be a park, a green street, things like that.

I’ve noticed a play park being built on the common. Is that part of the green infrastructure, or just something nice being done for the community?

No, that’s two old play areas in need of renewal: the paddling pool and then the old play area slightly further over, both of which were getting expensive to maintain. The paddling pool was quite well used but it had restricted openings. The old play area was of very poor quality, so the idea was to put in a much better-quality play area that’s got water in it but also has all sort of things that kids want in terms of activity; climbing, running, sliding, being upside down, getting wet. It’s all in that one integrated site. It’s a follow on from the play area in Houndwell Park. That has been so heavily used, they keep having to replace all the matting and stuff because it gets so worn through, but the kids have absolutely loved it, and we will have a similar facility on the common. Hopefully what will happen is families will come to the Common, the kids will probably make a beeline for the play area. They then might go to the cafe in the Hawthorns and hopefully have a go in the education area and have a play, then hopefully go have a walk in another part of the common. So, they’ve now got pretty much everything they need.

Excuse the pun, but the seeds have planted in many ways across the city for action to happen, we just have to wait and see if people think it’s important enough for the future.

We will keep going with the resources we’ve got, we will keep looking for new resources and new, perhaps different ways of doing things working with other people. Any initiatives people have going we’ll try and get the park element in. We’ll just keep waiting and hopefully the penny drops, and the big opportunity appears on the horizon.

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