The council’s cabinet will discuss the continued protection of open space and parks for public use at its meeting next week (Cabinet, Tuesday 16 June, agenda item 4).
The cabinet will be asked to agree to a ‘general presumption’ against the leasing or disposal of public open space.
The report follows an increase in requests from sports clubs and organisations to lease public open space, as opposed to hiring it, which can often mean limiting or restricting the public use of those spaces.
Cllr Carole Mulroney, cabinet member for environment and planning, says: “Southend-on-Sea is a densely populated urban borough with a population density much higher than the national and regional averages.
“As a result, although we have a variety of beautiful and well looked after green spaces and parks, the amount is also below the national average. Therefore the protection of existing green space and maintaining free public access is essential to support local people.
“Of course we want to see local clubs and organisations flourish, but we are seeing national bodies stipulate differing and various conditions for funding that we just cannot accommodate locally without having a detrimental impact on use and access to our parks and open spaces. Some funding conditions being set for clubs that want to move beyond grass roots level are much more suited to private grounds for example rather than public parks. Whilst there may be exceptional cases, these should be considered as the exception rather than the rule.”
“Within the borough's parks we provide and maintain facilities to create opportunities for winter and summer outdoor sports. These facilities are available for clubs and other users for hire. During the match or game, the user has exclusive use of the pitch. However, outside of these times, the space is freely available for the public to access as part of the green space.”
The recommendations in the cabinet report do not prevent the short term hire of parks and open spaces for outdoor events, sports matches and activities associated with the normal use of open space, but they do ensure the continued availability of those spaces for public use.