Blackburn with Darwen open space strategy
Blackburn with Darwen Council's open space strategy for was completed in March 2006 with enabling support from CABE.
The open space strategy is part of the local development framework which informs planning policy and enables the council to make a robust defence of the open spaces it wants to protect. The strategy also contributes to funding bids from organisations such as the Heritage Lottery Fund and Sport England.
CABE gave enabling support from 2003 for this project.
How CABE’s enabling helped
- played a crucial role in maintaining momentum through the process
- facilitated stakeholder consultation
- acted as an effective conduit to best practice and information sources
- helped to define the audit criteria
- guided officers through creating the strategy.
In retrospect, more connections could have been made to the housing market renewal (HMR) process. However, the resulting open space strategy remains a model in terms of rigor and structure for other authorities to emulate.
Blackburn with Darwen is a unitary authority in Lancashire with a population of approximately 137,000. The borough contrasts attractive countryside with some of England’s most deprived urban communities. It is the UK’s 27th most deprived borough and some 50 per cent of its housing stock is within the East Lancashire housing market renewal (HMR) area.
The council was committed to developing an open space strategy using housing market renewal (HMR) and liveability funds.
As well as requesting assistance from CABE’s enablers with the process of developing the strategy, there were two other specific areas in which the council was seeking to achieve some improvements to its green space estate:
- Identifying examples of other landscape treatments from around the country to apply to the council’s large tracts of vacant, under-used amenity grassland reclaimed from previous uses.
- Identifying alternative management regimes for council parks and open spaces. Within the borough there are many successful and active friends and supporter’s groups. The liveability fund programme was intended to develop further the network of community groups to support and develop the liveability agenda.
In January 2004, the council appointed two CABE enablers:
- Annie Coombs – a lead enabler with extensive experience in strategic open space planning and community consultation
- Kim Paterson - a locally based enabler.
Their initial remit was to help the council in preparing a green space strategy and to assist with stakeholder consultation. As this was one of the first public space strategies to be developed there were few existing patterns to follow.
The enablers led officers through the process set out in the CABE publication Green space strategies: a good practice guide and encouraged them to examine what it was that they wanted from the completed strategy. A core officer group was formed that, with the support of the enablers, identified the tasks required to prepare the strategy.
As the enabling process was new to the council officers, the lead enabler had to establish a clear distinction between her role as advisor and the council’s initial expectations that she would develop the strategy on their behalf.
Vision and aims of the strategy
The first stakeholder consultation session, attended by over 100 people, led to the creation of the vision:
“Our vision is quality open space providing what the community wants and is valued and enjoyed by everyone”
The overall aims of the strategy were also defined:
- developing a clear and shared vision between the community, council and other stakeholders
- demonstrating the value of open space in achieving corporate, strategic and community objectives
- establishing a cross-cutting framework for provision, design, management, accessibility and maintenance
- ensuring that existing and future open spaces enhance the quality of life of local communities and the environment and promote greater civic pride and social inclusion
- maximising resources to support open space improvements through external funding opportunities and allocation of revenue budgets
- providing a clear framework for voluntary and community groups to contribute to on going management and maintenance of open spaces.
Creating the strategy
The strategy was progressed through joint working between the direct services, cultural services and planning departments. The lead enabler ensured that this audit was undertaken against a wider set of criteria than required purely for planning purposes, as per planning policy guidance note 17 (PPG17), and with her advice the council established its own site audit criteria based on the Green Flag model.
Further stakeholder consultation on the draft strategy took place in November 2005.
Contents of the strategy
The specific policies and proposals are set out in the strategy through a general policy section, followed by a series of open space types:
- parks and public gardens
- formal outdoor recreation
- provision for children and young people
- civic spaces
- natural and semi-natural urban green spaces
- amenity grassland
- open space corridors
- accessible countryside in the urban fringe.
The strategy covers a three-year period with measurable outcomes for each of these open space types. The lead enabler helped to define these measurables and provided background information on how other authorities were setting similar outcome based targets.
Each of the open space types in the strategy also contains:
- a vision that links back to the overall vision established in 2004
- a set of specific objectives, supported by comprehensive policies
- an attached case study illustrating an example of good practice in the borough.
Launching the strategy
The strategy was launched and published in May 2006 together with an action plan for the first set of deliverables covering the period 2006/07. The council used the launch to raise its own profile nationally and the profile of the service within the authority.
Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council:
- Ray Grimshaw – deputy director, direct services
- Najmus Saqib (NJ) - parks manager
- David Proctor – planning
- Pauline Goodridge – planning
- Anne MackSmith – head of policy & development
- Chris Coldwell – housing and regeneration
- Gwen Kinloch - housing and regeneration
- Neil Oxley – countryside services manager
- Marion Roberts – play officer
CABE’s enabling service:
- Annie Coombs (CABE Space lead enabler)
- Kim Paterson (CABE Space)