Skip to main content

Meetings

Meeting Details

(2019/20) Scrutiny Review Panel 4 (Leisure)
3 Oct 2019 - 19:00 to 21:30
  • Documents
  • Attendance
  • Declarations of Interests
  • Visitors

Documents

Agenda

Standard Items
1 Apologies for Absence
  • Councillor Shaw conveyed his apologies and was substituted by Councillor Driscoll.
  • Councillor Rooney conveyed her apologies and was substituted by Councillor Donnelly.
  • Alex Duncan (Contract Manager, The Event Umbrella) conveyed his apologies due to a prior work commitment.
  • Carole Stewart (Assistant Director Arts Libraries and Heritage) conveyed her apologies.
2 Urgent Matters
There were none.
3 Declarations of Interest

There were none.

4 Matters to be Considered in Private
There were none.
5 Minutes
To approve as a correct record the minutes of the meeting held on 25 July 2019.
The minutes were approved.

Chris Bunting presented a report on Ealing's parks and open spaces service.  The report positioned Ealing as one of the greenest boroughs in London with over a quarter of its land as open space.  These provide a focal point for the community and improving these spaces in fundamental to making Ealing an attractive place to live, work and visit.

Currently, the service operates with a small team of 29 officers and Chris Bunting highlighted the impending loss of the two Walpole Park Heritage Lottery funded posts at the end of October 2019 after which, it was anticipated, the Active Citizenship programme would continue to maintain the good work and strong relationships established over the past five years.   Two Grounds Maintenance Officers managed the day to day operations and the Grounds Maintenance contract, while a Park Ranger Team Leader and seven Park Rangers were responsible for Ealing's 145 parks and open spaces - a reduction from 32 rangers over the last ten years.  There had been a reduction in spend since 2013, which was reflective of the 28% decrease in the Service's budget.  However, there had been significant investment in parks restoration (Walpole and Gunnersbury) and an anticipated reduction in spend resulting from ending the contract with Amey by bringing the refuse collection in-house .

In addition, the Service supported organisations like Plogolution and was currently interviewing potential Trustees for the Parks Foundation. 

In 2018, The London Benchmarking Group awarded Ealing the fourth highest position out of 33 London boroughs (up 10 spots from 2017) for its parks and open spaces despite the loss of some of its open space, although it is anticipated that the ranking will be lower this year.  In addition, Ealing had received 23 Green Flags in 25 years (increasing from two to nine flags in one year - the largest increase in the country).  Ealing Parks have participated in the London in Bloom campaign for several years and received a gold award for five years in a row.  Ealing also won the Large City of the Year award for 2019. 

Ealing's Playing Pitch Strategy 2017-2031 (PPS) evaluated the current quantity, type and contribution of outdoor sports within Ealing and was adopted by Cabinet in 2017.  The Council played an enabling role in developing better quality facilities by engaging with community organisations, through the asset transfer process, and enabling them to independently manage and operate facilities that were funded through partnerships with Sport England and National Governing Bodies of Sport. 

The issue of accessible and secured community use provision to meet future demand was addressed in the report for each sport and the successful strategies ad programmes that had been applied, particularly in relation to Horsenden Hill Farm with the support of the Park Ranger; Blondin Consortium's community hub that had successfully raised over £300,000 to take on the lease to maintain and manage the park; and allotments whereby 98% of which were managed by local association or volunteer site managers following the removal of the post of the Council's Allotment Manager some years ago. 

Chris Bunting then presented slides on the success of events in the borough, including the award winning Ealing Half Marathon and entertainment events in the borough's parks, in addition to significant joint community initiatives including fundraising for a new Walpole park manager which was currently funded by the Heritage Lottery funds.  Most notably the Brent Valley Listed Stables which currently stood derelict but would be refitted to accommodate a children's nursery next year. 

The following emerging priorities were highlighted as key areas for the Service:

  • Refresh of the Green Spaces strategy in association with Planning to inform the Local Plan;
  • Readying services for changes in the delivery of grounds maintenance and burial services;
  • Cost reduction and income generation through the Active Citizenship programme, a programme to bridge the gap in funding through volunteering opportunities;
  • Delivering 30,000 trees in the current administrative cycle (so far 13,000 have been delivered).

Active Citizen - The parks play a vita role in the Active Citizen's strategy.  This programme seeks to bridge budget cuts through volunteers.  The Parks Service is looking for people to give up some time to help maintain the parks in the borough.  Every Tuesday volunteers can meet the Park Rangers and help in the parks.  Examples include:

Trees for Cities - The Council pays them £25,000 to plant trees and they meet with corporates to generate £175,000 (more than ten times more funds) than the Council pays them.

Corporate Volunteering - much of this takes place in the Walpole and Gunnersbury parks and Dell tends to paticipate at these venues.  GlaskoSmithKline engages mainly with the Hanwell and Horsenden Hill areas.

Transfom Your Space - this involves community groups putting in bids for funds to help maintain the green spaces e.g. Katherine Buchanan Meadow.

Ealing's Forgotten Spaces - this is where an activist group highlights a space that has been unkempt.  The Council will be leasing the Baron's Pond space in Gunnersbury Park for seven years.  The group then asked for a green area by the river between Greenford and Gurnell.  They put forward a phased 10-year plan for it.  When the Mayor of London announced the Green Capital Fund, the plan was submitted and it achieved £600,000 in funding with a leverage of £400,000.  This makes it a £1m project to build the Gurnell to Greenford greenways.

2 minute litter pick - a kit is available to support people in picking up litter in the parks.  The investment enables changing people's behaviour with messages on the boards.

Community Gardens - the service is looking to create more of these and working with Adult Social Care to support people with social isolation and dementia.

 Better Points 'Love Parks' Programme - this involves earning points for volunteering in parks which can then be transferred into vouchers.

GoodGym - this is where volunteers mainly in central Ealing run and do something good on the way for others e.g. planting , decorating, etc.

Ealing Parks Foundation - this was set up by the Council in November 2018 and will operate as a charitable organisations with residents, friends groups and a board of trustees to help shape the future of the borough's green spaces.  Interviews to appoint trustees were underway with a view to getting it live before Christmas.

Better Connected

Parkguard Limited was introduced in 2012-2013.  The Council paid them £170,000 per annum to lock and unlock 24 parks.  This had now been reduced to 13 parks and the Council had invested in park guarding instead.  It was agreed to deselect a number of parks which now stayed open to fund guards who patrolled wherever they were told would be trouble.  Some had dogs which were often ex-police dogs.  In order to change behaviour, the Council would be retendering this provision shortly.

The Canal & River Trust and Thames21 would be helping to restore parts of the Brent River valley.

Questions

The Chair thanked the Assistant Director of Leisure for his presentation and invited comments and questions from Panel Members.

The Chair opened the questions by stating that there was a huge decrease in the funding and park rangers, yet the parks were booming and blooming.  Therefore, something was going right but queried the real and future impact of cuts, for example, what would we do without the Walpole Park Manager role?

It was advised that £1.2m had been taken out of the service and the Council needed to get residents involved to mitigate this.  The team was stretched in their day to day work.  The service had looked at the maintenance contract and cut out anything that they could e.g. planting meadows that did not need cutting.  The service no longer did certain activities such as edging for footpaths as often e.g. this was now only done once a year.  It also rationalised bins and resisted putting them back e.g. in the Maytrees Gardens opposite South Ealing Station where bins used to fill up.  The service undertook a programme of measuring waste in bins and then took them out.  This resulted in an uproar particularly from dog walkers so four caddies were installed by the far gates but it gave rise to people dumping black bags there.  It was found that taking bins away reduced flytipping and dumping.  The Big Belly bins which had been installed in certain parks e.g. Northala Hills had a 700% capacity of normal bins and when full sent a text to the operatives.

The service had increased income through burial fees, sports pitch revenue and promoting buildings to the commercial markets.

For Walpole Park, the static ground operative would also go and might introduce the volunteer programme in addition to Lammas Park.  This would also mean a decline in the presentation of one of our flagship parks and no more face for users.

Cllr Ball queried whether there was a risk of the remaining bins having a knock-on effect from flytipping outside parks as well as an increase in the street bins.  He asked whether this had been checked.

It was advised that this was possibly the case but street bins got emptied at the same frequency so no extra investment in resources was required.  However, there was no evidence that people did that but seemed to take their littler home.  Therefore, there was no additional cost to the Council.

Cllr Hitesh Tailor stated that he had got a complaint about Maytrees Gardens from Glen who litter picked and had written to the service.  He was informed of the removal of the bins experiment.  In March, there were no bins but had seen tied green sacks which were quite full.C

It was advised that the Council had not provided the green bags.

Cllr Hitesh Tailor remarked that he was sceptical of the decrease in the litter and asked if that could have been Amey or the residents.

It was advised that the service would not endorse sacks.

Cllr Jon Ball noted that the trajectory for green flags was slowing down and questioned whether this was due to the cuts in the service.

It was advised that there were 12 green flags then there were 20 and that was about as much as we could manage (each park had four hours of inspection).  The Council had to put forward a management plan every two years and a mystery shopper in between.  A decision had to be taken to rest at 21 flags and focus on community awards.  Ealing was eighth in England for green flags and expected to remain in the top quartile for the Council’s key performance indicators.

Cllr Jon Ball remarked that not much was being done to fix the equipment in the playground areas.

It was advised that there were 84 playgrounds with 700 pieces of kit.  The playgrounds were inspected weekly by two trained play inspectors who were checked.  The maintenance of the playgrounds was done by Amey.  The last Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) report indicated that there had been 1,000 checks.  The service received £170,000 for new playgrounds and repairs/restoration.  It was decided to rationalise improving service in fewer areas.

Cllr Jon Ball stated that it was useful to have spaces very close for parents with multiple children e.g. the logistics of travelling to a playground.  He queried whether parents could raise money through donations for playground maintenance.

It was advised that it would be wishful thinking about parents wanting to invest in local authority services.  For example, 200 fundraisers only generated £900 a year even though it was an £80,000 playground.  It was unlikely for them or school parent teachers associations to invest.  However, the service would consider this proposal.

Cllr Hitesh Tailor added that the deprivation areas would not have the money to do this.

Cllr Jon Ball suggested that a fund sign should be installed in each park.

It was advised that the cost of raising the funds was likely to be more than the funds raised but could consider crowdfunding for one site.

Cllr Kamaljit Nagpal queried about corporate volunteering and asked who we were working with and whether we had approached them.

It was advised that corporate volunteering was very well appreciated and there was an established relationship with the corporates.  It was a mix as not all companies had an established corporate social responsibility strategy.  The service worked with the corporates to determine how they could contribute.  It also sent out a digital leaflet to them.  There were proactive people on the ground (e.g. grounds manager, park ranger, etc.) who did a lot to engage with corporate volunteers especially organisations such as Diageo, Danone, GSK, Dell and PWC.  It would also be helpful to get them to use the skills that they had e.g. analyse the service business plan, media campaign, etc.  Whilst it was a fixed resource and not a huge money spinner, it was good to do.  An organisation called The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) brokered this for the Council.

Cllr Kamaljit Nagpal asked whether we were considering the funding for Hanwell Zoo.

It was advised that it was difficult to determine how the service would manage when the funding went.  For example, Hanwell Zoo had a funding of £249,000 which was a huge amount when we were closing the library.  Therefore, the service rebranded by investing in animal welfare, a new café operator and an entry fee.  The voluntary sector also approached the service to help out.  When the entry to the zoo was free, there were 152,000 (some repeat visits) a year but with the introduction of the £2.50 entry fee the numbers dropped to 62,000 a year which was in line with other boroughs.  The entry fee would be increased to £4.00.  The service had a growth bid of £20,000 to get a zoo consultant to make a recommendation to Cabinet.  There was a £131,000 reduced net cost to the Council and it was anticipated to reduce this to zero cost.  The consultant was working on this proposal.

Cllr Steve Donnelly asked that given the green flags, etc. what the disconnect with the low satisfaction rate was in the residents’ survey.

It was advised that it was disappointing but could be because it was exceptionally high before 2018.  All services fell with the exception of social care.  Perhaps it was due to the changed grass cutting regime otherwise the investment and welcome was as good as in 2014. It was felt that residents were generally disappointed with the Council services.  The scores for leisure, arts, culture, libraries and crime had dropped except for Acton Leisure Centre.  Perhaps we did not promote the successes enough.  A recent visit to Trinity Way in Hammersmith and Fulham showed that the quality was excellent yet that site was at risk of being rundown.

Cllr Linda Burke agreed that we did not say enough about our successes and wanted to get involved in active citizenship but found that it was not easy to do so and whether we had the skills.

It was advised that Active Citizenship was a behavioural change programme which was not just a Parks programme.  There was no funding for branding it or communications.  Wigan Council had won the Council of the Year award because of their branded programme which we did not have.  Our citizens did not know about our programme because we did not invest enough to get results.  Barking and Dagenham had produced a report and invested £8m in their programme whereas Ealing worked on a shoestring budget.  People seemed to enjoy Plogging, GoodGym, etc.  Volunteering had gone up to 6% from 3% but that was still not sufficient.  However, the borough has been successful in Ealing’s Forgotten Spaces and Transform Your Space programmes which closed the gap with the high performing parks.

Cllr Linda Burke stated that our tree maintenance was not great and we did not promote citizens looking after trees outside their front doors.

It was advised that trees were guaranteed for three years.  We lost 10% of trees through natural space and bad location.  We used to have a tree warden programme which the service was looking to reinstate so it was presently work in progress.  The service had undertaken a trees survey by putting necklaces around trees explaining what their monetary community value was in thousands of pounds.  We were aware of the value of trees and looking at four strategic partnerships by inviting residents to plant a tree in their back garden.

Cllr Linda Burke suggested that we were in danger of being amateurish and piecemeal about it.  The Panel should make a recommendation about this.  There were professionals who did this well and we too needed to do so.

It was advised that the next Panel meeting would consider a paper on DemSoc and the Council’s new approach.  The Assistant Director of Leisure did not attend many events but noted that Gunnersbury was managed by a community interest company which also managed the events programme.

Cllr Simon Woodroofe stated that he had discussed this with Alex Duncan (Contract Manager, The Event Umbrella) and he was very positive about the relationship.

It was advised that we did not have large event spaces in the borough which was why we were blessed with Gunnersbury Park.  Hounslow Council was responsible for the planning and licensing matters for it which could be refused.  Gunnersbury Park only had a number of event days in license which was restrictive and faced resistance from residents.  When we put a commercial event, e.g. Lovebox, we pushed through to demonstrate that it was a reputable event.  Commercialisation of parks for events was a hot topic for London but not for residents.  We needed to extend the licence for Ealing Common but the residents were very active in refuting.  However, there was potential for increased events in Walpole Park.

Cllr Steve Donnelly commented that on drilling down the sporting facilities e.g. pitches and courts in the 2017 strategy, there was a liberal quotation and the challenges that we faced plus the complexity of interaction with governing bodies, agencies, etc.  He queried our position and how we were doing.

It was advised that we were ahead of where we were in 2017 and working with sporting and governing bodies e.g. Middlesex Football Association.  There had been significant inward investment in our pavilions.  The asset transfer programme had also been very effective and most successful of that type in England.  Gunnersbury Park, Rectory Park and Warren Farm would follow suit.  Warren Farm was leased to Queens Park Rangers as a private academy who would provide us with eight football pitches, three cricket pitches, a pavilion and a sports development programme.  We would be quite close to closing the football and cricket deficits.

There were eight new tennis courts at Gunnersbury Park and a programme with Lawn Tennis Association to improve the courts.  We would look at paying to access with a fob to reinvest in tennis facilities.  £500,000 had been invested in restoring the courts.  We would be very well appointed for sports facility and arguably were now too.

Cllr Hitesh Tailor remarked that attendance had been down at the Greenford and Acton Festivals.  He queried how much space was taken up in the parks for these events and the frequency of requests received for funfairs. It was explained that the Ealing Summer programme included the Greenford and Acton Festivals.  However, anti-social behaviour and health and safety which the Council managed was done successfully.  The Greenford Festival was not sustainable and the local community had been asked to take it over but that had not worked out.  Therefore, it had drifted back to the Council.  We would need to consider whether carnivals had a future. It was difficult to form a community group in Greenford.  It had one good year and a couple of mediocre ones.  Acton served a purpose and brought together community organisations but could be made more commercial.

The funfairs formed part of the Showman’s Guild which meant that they could not cross territories.  We would put more in as the income from these is £30,000-£40,000 a year.  However, they are not always loved by the residents as was demonstrated for the Blondin Park.

Cllr Hitesh Tailor then asked about the arrangements for the London Mela.

It was explained that previously the London Mela was held in the Gunnersbury Park but had now been moved to Southall.  They seemed to enjoy it in Southall and had claimed that it had peaked at 80,000 people per day.  There were 24,000 people over the two days.  They were also looking to relocate offices to Southall and are breaking even now.  It cost £400,000 to put on the event which was funded by sponsorship grants, trader income, etc. but now costs much less.

Cllr Hitesh Tailor queried where the attendees for the London Mela came from.

It was explained that when it was held in the Gunnersbury Park – 60% came from Ealing, 30% from Hounslow and 10% were Others but was unsure about Southall.  The event was called the London Mela because it was part-funded (£75,000) by the Mayor of London.  It was independent of Ealing Council and was still supported by the Greater London Authority and the Arts Council.

Councillor Simon Woodroofe commented about the Open House event in South Ealing Cemetery and that residents from his ward litter picked at Horsenden Hill.

It was explained that the Council was looking at restoring the Chapels at the Cemetery.  The Event Umbrella employed six officers who were located at the Council premises.

Cllr Gurmit Mann queried about the improvement, trees and maintenance of Southall Park.  She stated that there was so much litter, overgrown grass and rough sleepers stored their belongings there.  This was noted by visitors to the parks.

The Assistant Director of Leisure advised that he had spent two days in Southall Park at the London Mela and the quality was good.  All seasonal bedding had been removed and rough sleepers signposted to St Mungo’s for assistance.  There were no flowers in parks to save £137,000 (flowers and labour).  The park was deemed to be in good health apart from the recreation ground which had litter and rough sleepers.  The service was looking at an outdoor tracking centre for next spring and new footpaths in the Southall recreation centre.  Homelessness was more difficult to tackle and the Council had a strategy for this.

The Chair asked whether we had people to check on the homeless sleepers in the unlocked parks and whether Southall Park was locked at night.

It was confirmed that Southall Park was locked overnight.

 

Cllr Hitesh Tailor remarked that Gunnersbury Park was now a West London-wide park with a £36m investment and whether it was perceived for bigger events.  He queried if sports development was taking the shortfall in services and how Ealing was working with the neighbouring Hounslow borough.

It was advised that Ealing had taken the lead in Gunnersbury and had raised money faster than expected (£15m for a sports hub).  We had been involved in the programming because we were good at it.  Hounslow Council managed the rest of the park facilities.  The main building was running three months behind and we could make a commercial claim against Kier for this.  It had been poor from a delivery perspective.  The practical completion was due on 14 December 2019.

The Chair thanked the Assistant Director of Leisure for the presentation and congratulated him on the awards.

 

The Chair requested proposals for expert witnesses and site visits for the next meeting at which the Panel would consider the sports provision in the borough.

 

Members suggested inviting representatives of London Tigers and Brentford Football Club Community Sports Trust to the meeting and visiting their sports sites in the borough.

 

The Park Club in Acton was also suggested but the Chair was hesitant to go to a private club.

8 Date of Next Meeting

The next meeting of the Panel was due to take place on Thursday 28 November 2019.

 

Councillor Alex Stafford (Chair)

 

The meeting ended at 9.00pm

Paul Najsarek, Chief Executive, 24 September 2019

Attendance

Name
No other member attendance information has been recorded for the meeting.
NameReason for Sending ApologySubstituted By
Councillor Sarah RooneyMaternity leaveCouncillor Stephen Donnelly
Councillor Gareth Shaw Councillor Paul Driscoll
NameReason for AbsenceSubstituted By
No absentee information has been recorded for the meeting.

Declarations of Interests

Member NameItem Ref.DetailsNature of DeclarationAction
No declarations of interest have been entered for this meeting.

Visitors

Also in attendance at the above meeting were:

 

Officers:

Harjeet Bains - Scrutiny Officer

Elizabeth Snider - Democratic Services Officer

 

External Presenters:

Chris Bunting - Assistant Director, Leisure