The need to plan for sustainable management solutions at the onset of capital programmes
Currently there are a lot of planned big scale capital projects for new public realm/greenspace in London. Massive development in Wandsworth - Nine Elms Linear Park, Restoration of Crystal Palace, Greenwich Peninsula, Croydon Town Centre and environs and a new pedestrian green bridge over the Thames linking Temple station to the South Bank. All big-ticket capital items.
That’s a good thing – new shiny parks and better public realm for all of us. But as a public space management professional, I am concerned, as other parks professionals must be, over the long term management costs for these new spaces.
How are we to manage the gold standard or even bronze in these proposed new spaces?
The new garden pedestrian bridge proposal is a point in question – a cool £120-£150 million to build with £30 million pledged by the government through its National Infrastructure Plan and a further £4 million from Transport for London (TFL).
The long term management plan has not emerged from the Trust organisers as yet – but comments from government and TFL report that state funding will only be given to assist with the capital build and the expectations for long term maintenance will be derived from third parties and additional ongoing fundraising.
Let’s compare this model with the High Line in New York:
Last year the Garden Museum hosted a conference for the New York High Line founders. The two-day conference was well attended by park professionals and park organisations all keen to glean ideas and work out ways to replicate the phenomenal success of the High Line. All fabulous stuff.
My interest in the conference was peaked during the Q&A session where it emerged that to run the High Line - maintenance, management, staff, education programme and fundraising events - costs $4.5 million annually for 6.7 acres of land. Compare that with the £250,000 spent on Crystal Palace annually.
The High Line employs 12 full-time fundraisers, to achieve these eye watering figures. Albeit it has one-off donations from Tiffany’s, Gucci and other high profile donors of one-off sums such as $10 million. However, what emerged through careful questioning was the long-term struggle it has as an independent trust that relies on volunteers, donations and constant fundraising to raise these funds.
Despite the High Line's success and positive impact on property values in the area it occupies in New York, it receives no long-lasting legacy or endowments to contribute to its sustainability.
Securing capital funding for new exciting projects, attractive to funders and investment operators is relatively easy. Securing adequate finances for the sometimes unattractive but essential long-term management and maintenance is the real issue and problem that needs desperately to be solved.
I am sure the new garden bridge, in an area of London ripe with tourist attractions, will be successful in attracting sponsors and gifts; it may even charge a fee to get across. But this is hardly a model for cash strapped local authorities trying to maintain their neighbourhood parks.
Too often I have heard developers and designers say ‘oh volunteers can do that’, and they can and do participate, lead and provide invaluable provision, but in all my (ahem) many years of working in the profession, I have never known volunteers to happily pick up litter, sharps and dog waste on a regular basis and why should they?
Approaches to long-term management funding
A common phrase used repeatedly in project plans and proposals that herald new exciting developments is: ‘we are exploring long-term management opportunities’.
Why it this not intrinsic to the initial financial package of proposals, why is this not clearly thought through before completion?
So how can we develop new approaches to long-term management funding?
There is clearly a need for better relationships across public, private and social sectors to improve long-term management sustainability. With the recent news this week that local authorities face a further 2% reduction in budgets next year, new models for innovative ideas to run public services are desperately needed.
One organisation that seems to be working well is The Land Trust – only taking on land assets that have clear endowments and income streams. Its recent acquisition of Beam Park in East London is a good example of developing a site that will be protected financially.
The Rethinking Parks initiative will be a good opportunity to further develop ideas for creative management and will hopefully inspire land managers to think creatively.
Sue Morgan is the Director of Around the Block Ltd, an independent consultancy focused on public realm management and development. She has 25 years’ experience of public realm policy, management and project development. Sue is currently working with Camden Council on the Alexandra Road Park HLF project, the first HLF project in a modern 20th Century Grade 2* listed housing estate. She will take up an appointment as the new CEO at Wandle Valley Regional Park Trust this month.
Photo: The High Line, New York. Credit: BriYYZ. Licence: Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic