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When The Ranger worked at Wicken Fen, some years ago, one of the main things he noticed about living in Cambridgeshire was the surprising lack of publicly accessible countryside. His closest country park, and one he enjoyed using on many occasions, was Milton Country Park: a country park created by South Cambridgeshire District Council in 1993 from old gravel workings just to the East of the village of Milton. It is one of the few country parks in Cambridgeshire and certainly one of the best public green spaces in the county.
Today it’s the bad news: cash-strapped South Cambridgeshire District Council is considering what to do with the park. After a lot of work and local involvement council officers devised a possible way forward which would keep it open, at least for now. Excuse the jargon but the key bits have been highlighted (ref):
It is recommended that Cabinet (i) approves work to establish the medium/long-term future of the park through: (a) Undertaking an Asset Management Review with the assistance of the County Council, and (b) Seeking an appropriate external organisation to take on the management, and possibly ownership of the park, whether through a Trust or by another suitable agency. (ii) approves the creation of a Local Nature Reserve covering the whole area of the park North of the 13th Public Drain, including Tompkins Mead. (iii) Notes the proposals for reducing the current and future net cost of the park through: (a) increasing income through car parking charges, retendering the catering operation, lettings of the visitor centre and obtaining sponsorship for the park, (b) reductions in expenditure on services and (c) retaining the current staff team of three Rangers, subject to review in/around September 2007.
Admittedly, even this is not a positive prospect. It’s not without risk. Sounds like a challenge – but perhaps it could be done. It seemed as though the key principle of looking towards retaining the park for the future was set to be established. Certainly the local support for this plan was strong.
This rescue plan was proposed to elected councillors last December for their approval. Sadly, they had their own, very different ideas. This is what was agreed: (ref):
[To seek] an appropriate external organisation to take on by 31 August 2007 the management and possible ownership of the park, whether through a Trust or by another suitable agency, but if no suitable partnership could be arranged or appeared likely by that date, that officers be instructed to take the necessary steps to close the park.
It’s probably worth mentioning that considerable efforts have already been made to find an external organisation already, with no success. Gulp. It’s a bit soon to know just what this means, but the basics are pretty clear. There are special circumstances at this park which mean that if it closes, it’s likely to be something which can’t be undone, as there are strong commercial pressures in this area, and in short, once it’s gone, it’s gone. No more free public access, and maybe no more countryside landscape either – one possible alternative use suggested has been landfill. You will not be surprised to learn that The Ranger does not approve. Closure of any country park is to be resisted, although that doesn’t mean that no country park should ever be sold or restructured. It’s certainly possible to provide the benefits of a country park through non-traditional means, which can include commercial partnership or private ownership. But this particular park is a very good example of a community facility with wider importance, which really should not be sacrificed on the altar of short-term economies. What’s more, unlike many such places, closure really will mean the end of the park. They’re not talking about alternative provision – they are prepared to draw a line under the place and wash their hands of it. This is not a sustainable way to provide the South Cambs community with a service. It’s not even selling the family silver – it’s chucking the silver into the skip for want of a tin of Brasso. It’s not too late for South Cambs to reconsider. Please visit the website set up to support the campaign: http://www.savemiltoncountrypark.com where you can find out more about the park, and the issues. If you wish to support the campaign you can sign their on-line petition: yes, even if you don’t live in South Cambs. Good luck, Milton.