Concerns over Barton and Tredworth's Open Spaces
On the face of it, as the City Council’s draft Open Space Strategy puts it, ‘Gloucester is a green city’ that enjoys a wealth of open spaces available for the enjoyment of all sections of the community. However, as any resident with a moderately long memory can attest, things aren’t what they used to be. Gloucester is not unique: this is a problem faced in all cities by financial cuts, a scarcity of land available for development and increased pressure on our open spaces by the relaxation of national legislation on the development of green field sites.
In March 2014, the controversy in Gloucester arose out of claims that the strategy has exaggerated the quantity of open spaces in the city. Gloucester city councillor and cabinet member for the environment, Saj Patel, put a five-year halt on the plan following heated debate in a scrutiny meeting during which councillors stated that some areas of land had been wrongly identified as open space. Councillor Patel denied any exaggeration and outlined the council’s policy for a thoroughly democratic process for improving the provision of open spaces. He said: ‘We will work with residents and groups to develop specific action plans for each area. Issues might include those around dogs, new spaces, enforcement, cleanliness and putting on free activities.’
While there are more than 150 open spaces accessible to residents, covering around 300 hectares (not including a further 509ha taken up by cemeteries and allotments, plus the Alney Island Nature Reserve and Robinswood Hill Country Park), and many privately owned sports grounds and school playing fields, these spaces are not evenly distributed throughout the city. Barton and Tredworth comes out worst on the list of areas with accessible green spaces, with only 0.24ha per 1,000 residents, compared to the proposed standard of 2.8 ha per 1,000, which adheres to the Fields in Trust (FiT) benchmark. This figure is made up of 1.7ha formal sports pitches, 0.7ha equipped play space and 0.4ha informal recreation space.
Gloucester’s comprehensive environmental policy budgets for the maintenance of its nature reserves and country parks both for the benefit of wildlife as well as visitors to the city. It aims to enhance biodiversity and promote conservation. Alongside a concern for the natural environment, its future plans include attention to good urban design, which it defines as ‘the art of making places for people.’ This means taking notice of how people interact with their environment and making sustainable and attractive places where they will want to work and relax, and which will also attract visitors from outside the community. The council has identified six parts of the city as significantly lacking the open spaces essential to meet these standards. Besides Barton and Tredworth, this includes the areas of Quedgeley Severn Vale, Moreland, Hucclecote, Tuffley and Kingsholme and Wotton. The plan also includes building or refurbishing two play areas every year for the next five years, planting 5,000 trees and achieving Green Flag awards for at least three parks or open spaces by the end of this period. Every year for the past eight years Gloucester city council has given away free trees to schools, local groups or individual residents, and this policy has continued into 2014.
Barton and Tredworth
This area’s serious shortfall in standards for the provision of open spaces needs to be addressed, not only in the quantity of spaces but in their quality. This involves assessment of each area by the council against in-house and Green Flag standards, using FiT play value criteria for equipped play areas, and full technical and visual assessments for sports fields. Generally, 90% of Gloucester’s residents live within 0.5km of an open space. Unfortunately, because the city is so compact and densely populated, standards of accessibility for sports fields do not meet the FiT standards and will probably not do so in the near future. However, residents who are able to travel further than the standard 1.2km will be able to find good facilities. Athletics is served in the city by the Blackbridge Athletics Track, which does meet the 30 minute drive time standard for all the city’s residents.
Concerns over the amount of open spaces available to the residents of Barton and Tredworth were not allayed by the approval in February 2014 of plans for a new horse riding arena on land currently accessible to residents as part of St James’ Park. This can only reduce the already small amount of open public spaces in the area. One positive story is the continue success of the St James City Farm, which could have become a victim of budget cuts back in 2010 if the Friendship Café had not stepped in to take over its running as a charity.
The need for constant vigilance and action to prevent the loss of open spaces was clearly illustrated in January 2014 when diggers moved onto the former Kingsholm sports field, now owned by Redrow Homes. While local councillors have argued that it should remain a public sports field, there was speculation that it could provide a new home for Gloucester AFC, which was flooded out of its Meadow Park ground. Redrow homes assured the people that the earthworks were investigations only, and the council confirmed that no planning application had been made for the site and that the field had some protection from development by being listed as a private playing area. An application by community leaders to have first refusal on buying the land if Redrow decided to sell was refused by the council. Meanwhile, although Gloucester AFC favours a move back to Meadow Park, the field’s future—like so many other open spaces in the area—is still up in the air.