Brian Barton (Parish Clerk) and I attended another meeting today with Andy Hudson (Head of Environment and Waste at Milton Keynes Council) and John Price (Landscape Manager of MK Council) to discuss our involvement in managing the landscaping in the Parish.
Landscape management comprises the maintenance of those areas of land which falls under the responsibility of the Council (rather than others such as the Parks Trust or private owners). It includes grass cutting, shrub pruning and tree work not involving working at height. The Localism Act 2011 legislated to decentralise power to local communities including transferring assets and services. MK Council has invited the Parish to take over responsibility for management of landscaping as part of this.
Today’s meeting was part of a series of meetings which have happened over a couple of years and during which time there has been significant change. We have now reached a point where it seems there is a clearer way forward with this.
One option is for landscaping to be entirely devolved to the Parish Council and we could contract with our own supplier. Overall, this solution works best for larger Parishes and where there is a long track record of experience. L&GHPC is a small Parish with a skeleton staff and we have no track record of any involvement in landscape management so it would be a large leap to take on responsibility ourselves. This does not seem an appropriate step, at least at the present time.
Should therefore we leave arrangements alone and do nothing and allow our landscape maintenance to be managed from outside the Parish and with little or no local involvement? For a number of reasons I strongly think the answer to that is no.
We discussed an alternative solution where MKC gives L&GHPC agency power to manage the landscaping budget. They would provide us with training on the contract specification which consists of various key documents. We would have quarterly meetings with SERCO and Frosts who deliver the landscaping services. We would form a L&GHPC landscape working group which would review the current state of the landscape and identify issues for discussion with the contractor. We would provide an input into checking the service delivery to ensure it was compliant with the contract specification. We would provide some funding ourselves which we could contribute towards re-planting and improvement of the area. We could also find funds within the existing budget by resource-switching towards priorities which local people approved. We could also integrate some of the existing landscaping responsibilities we have with the SERCO contract where savings and efficiencies could be achieved. We will also access expert advise from MKC’s horticultural experts.
Overall, I hope the Parish Council will see that our involvement in management of our local landscape has the potential through Localism to achieve both efficiency savings and improvement in outcomes which will make Loughton and Great Holm an area noted for the excellence and beauty of its local landscape and management.
Chair, Loughton & Great Holm Parish Council
3rd December 2015