Planning for Real was appointed in September 2011 by Leighton Linslade Town Council to undertake a consultation exercise about what improvements were needed to Pages Park and Mentmore Road Memorial Gardens. The town council was reviewing the facilities in both of these parks to inform the production of a long term 20 year plan for future leisure and recreational development in these locations.
Planning for Real® (PFR) is a versatile and flexible method for community engagement, which can be used to look at wide ranging issues. For this project, rather than using a 3D model of the area, an aerial photograph of each of the parks was used. This allowed people to see an exact photograph of the park and the location of existing facilities. Rather than using the standard set of PFR suggestion cards, the focus for this project was on those that were relevant to an open space consultation. Additional tools were also used including questionnaires for the numerous interest groups and large visual pin board questionnaires for members of the public.
The consultation events were promoted by the town council through the local paper, their website and leaflets. The process began with a visioning workshop in October 2011 which gave town councillors the opportunity to identify some of the issues that needed to be addressed and the potential that both parks could offer in the future. This exercise was important in determining the scope of the consultation and starting to explore the potential funding arrangements for improvements to the parks given the difficult economic situation.
A number of events were organised to maximise participation in the consultation process. These included an event for interest groups who use the facilities in both of the parks and having stalls at a number of public events including the local Christmas Lights celebration and the Christmas Fair. A final event was held in March 2012 to give people an opportunity to look at the issues raised during the consultation and think about what the priorities should be.
It was apparent during the consultation events that residents and park users were very concerned about the future of both parks and were suspicious that a consultation exercise was being carried out. This requires a clear message to be sent out by the town council informing people that there is no intention to build or sell off either of these sites.
The consultation included many of the user groups and sports organisations who use the facilities in the parks. Information was gathered on the needs of these groups and their plans for the future. All of the clubs are mindful of the rapid expansion in the town and the additional interest that the Olympics will generate in sport and they want to be sure they can accommodate a rising demand in their sports.
Whilst sports facilities alone should not determine the total future development of these parks it is crucial that their needs are considered as they attract many people to their activities. The consultation highlighted that young people need to be encouraged to participate in sports activities and a good range of facilities should be offered in each of the parks.
The consultation results suggest that it would be sensible, before any decisions are made about how to improve facilities at both of these parks, for a sports strategy to be developed for the town. This could take a more holistic view and look at all the parks in the town and decide which facilities would be best sited where, what facilities already exist and what improvements would need to be made to achieve everyone’s aspirations. It is important that this strategy is developed quickly so that organisations that need to develop their plans are not delayed by this process.
In addition to the sports provision, other key issues which came out of the consultation were the future of the two pavilions, anti-social behaviour (specific locations and possible solutions), lighting and seats placement, access, parking and café / refreshment facilities.
Overall the exercise showed that many of the people who attended the consultation were on the whole quite happy with the parks apart from some of the key issues mentioned above.
It was evident from the consultation that a number of the issues raised could be dealt with more quickly whilst a long term plan is being decided. This would mean that people who have been involved in the consultation process feel that their views have been listened to and that some progress is made made quite quickly. Examples of ‘quick wins’ which could be dealt with more quickly are:
- Tackle some of the issues of anti social behaviour that affect residents who live near the park
- Reassure members of the public that the town council have no intention to allow housing to be built on these parks
- Negotiate with the police to get a greater presence in both parks during the evenings, especially in the summer time
- Set up a ‘Friends of park group’ for each of the parks. This would enable members of the public who have an interest in these parks to set up a constituted group that could liaise with the town council and apply for funding for small improvements to the park
- Advertise more widely what is happening in the parks, particularly Pages Park and informing people how they can book space in the pavilions for their groups
- Pilot street snooker in both parks possibly during the school holidays when there is greater usage of the parks
- Organise some events that attract more families into the park – this could be done via local arts organisations, community organisations or Groundwork
- Improve signage to Pages Park
- Organise for dog bins to be emptied more regularly in each of the parks
- Keep people informed about future plans for each of the parks.
We asked Lisa Jarvis, senior operations and administration manager at Leighton Linslade Town Council for her impressions of the PFR approach. She said: