Newcastle City Council are proposing transferring responsibility for maintaining parks to a charitable trust. A move which is expected to open up new opportunities to generate revenue which can be invested in the parks.

This proposal appears to be a response to a 90% cut in funding available for the maintenance of parks and allotments in Newcastle. A public consultation on the proposal has recently closed. With Newcastle City Council’s decision on whether or not to proceed is eagerly awaited with a mixture of concern and anticipation.

So, what does this have to do with nature-based solutions and the NATURVATION project?

A team of researchers at Durham University (including myself) are working on a case study exploring how and why innovative nature-based solutions are being developed in Newcastle. In this research we are developing an understanding of nature-based solutions as ongoing ecological, social and political processes, rather than discrete green or blue infrastructure development projects.

So, the ongoing processes of providing and maintaining urban parks are definitely of interest. Particularly, given that within the public consultation the Council framed parks as delivering a range of social, environmental and health benefits (i.e. delivering solutions to urban problems).

“Parks are so much more than just a place to feed the ducks and have a kick-about. They play a vital role, for young and old, in the leisure, recreational, health, wellbeing, heritage, and environment, social and economic status of the local community.” (Newcastle City Council Press Release ahead of the Consultation).

In our research we will be conceptualising the proposal to set up a charitable trust as a social innovation taking place within the ongoing processes which maintain Newcastle’s parks as nature-based solutions. At this early stage in the research there are wealth of issues and questions to explore. The most prominent in my thinking at the moment being: what are the enablers and barriers to developing innovative ‘business’ models for maintaining parks in Newcastle? How and why is Newcastle City Council’s proposal being contested? Early indications for the consultation are that some people have concerns about the commercialisation of public, green spaces.

Over the Summer we are looking to engage with stakeholders involved and interested in the proposal to create a charitable trust. So, I will post back later in the year with some preliminary insights based on our case study research!

Chris Martin is a Research Associate at Durham University working on the NATURVATION project.