Parks & Open Space 2022 Annual Report
The Committee were presented with the Parks and Open Spaces Annual Report (January – December 2022), which could be found on page 9 of the agenda pack. The purpose of this report was to inform Members of the achievements and activities over the last year. The Parks and Open Spaces Manager highlighted key areas of the report which included:
- Work carried out throughout the borough to regenerate 15 play parks, that were identified as requiring attention and investment. It was noted that some parks had not been updated for 20 years. The development of the chosen sites were possible due to a successful grant funding bid. This injection of funds had accelerated the regeneration plans and meant the project was completed within months rather than years. Members were given an overview of the work carried out at each of the 15 play parks. Improvements varied at each site but included themed play areas, accessibility for all ages and abilities with inclusive play and sensory equipment.
- The Parks and Open Spaces Manager updated the Committee on Gravesham’s tree planting efforts over the past year, as part of the Council’s drive to deliver a greener Gravesham. Gravesham had planted 20 trees across the borough for the Queen’s Jubilee plus 250 native whips to create The Forest of Memories in Instead Rise, to remember those who had died during the Covid19 pandemic. Members were advised that unfortunately due to the drought in 2022, a number of whips had died but would be replaced.
- Following devastation caused by Storm Eunice along the Gordon Promenade, a review of the location had been carried out and in order to promote the biodiversity of the area and to enhance the annual colour, there would be mixed perennial flower beds created. This option would also prove more cost effective.
- Members were informed about the dedication of the Windmill Hill Association to promote the natural habitat through the Buzz Garden. The Parks and Open Spaces Manager also advised that to promote habitats for wildlife 20 bat, bird and owl boxes had been installed in various locations throughout the borough.
- The Committee were informed of the Mindful Moment benches that had been installed throughout the borough. It was hoped that especially during the current economic climate, these benches would offer a place to reflect. Individuals could be signposted for help and support via a QR code on the plaque.
- The Parks and Open Spaces Manager informed Members of the Growing Your Community scheme that was introduced this year. This saw the introduction of raised beds to involve the community in creating and maintaining herb and vegetable plots, which had so far been a success.
The Parks and Open Spaces Manager outlined the aspirations for 2023.
The Chair thanked the Parks and Open Spaces Manager and team for everything that had been achieved in the past year.
The Committee were invited to ask questions and make comment.
Members raised concern about future maintenance of the parks and how often they would be checked. The Parks and Open Spaces Manager advised that there were 47 parks within Gravesham to maintain and 2 full time park rangers. He informed Members that there are routine, operational and annual checks to ensure the equipment met safety standards and to remove any graffiti. The Committee were updated with a plan to introduce Friends of Gravesham, which would offer residents the opportunity to adopt a local park, volunteer with tasks such as litter picking and flowerbed maintenance. Members were advised this was in the early stage of development, but it was a positive way to bring together the community and create a working partnership. This partnership could also be method to communicate feedback any issues within the parks to ensure they stay well maintained.
The Committee noted that within the report reference was made to the public’s perception of the projects being great and well received, but wondered what evidence there was to back up these statements. The Parks and Open Spaces Manager advised that comments were collated from social media and from speaking to the community in the parks. He went on to say that software was being trialled to look at play park usage such as chosen activities and how long visitors stayed for. This data would offer a valuable insight and a learning tool to see where investment has been of benefit. The software could also provide data since 2019. Members requested that if this software were to be utilised, the Committee would appreciate the data being presented at the Committee meetings going forward.
Members referred to the future aspirations for 2023 and asked in relation to funding for parks, how the horticultural team would request financing from Planning Section 106 funds. The Park and Open Spaces Manager informed the Committee that due to the close working relationship with the Planning department there was as understanding that money from Section 106 funding could be used for this purpose. The Assistant Director (Operations) added that large housing developments often included a play park that was maintained by a management company. He advised that provision was in place to ensure the sites were properly maintained by outside companies.
Members asked if volunteers of the Friends of Gravesham volunteer scheme would have a police DBS check as part of the risk assessment. The Parks and Open Spaces Manager advised that the volunteers would be predominantly for the open space areas rather than the play parks, but this would be taken into consideration.
The Committee asked if there would be a cost implication in replacing the trees in The Forest of Memories that died during the summer drought. Reassurance was given that there was no additional cost, as the replacement trees were a donation. The new trees would be a more robust larger species, would be surrounded by chestnut fencing and have a more robust watering schedule.
The Chair thanked the Parks and Opens Spaces Manager and team for the improvements and raising horticulture to a greater standard within the borough. He went on to say that the regeneration of parks gave a huge amount to the community and improved the quality of life for residents.