OPEN SPACE STRATEGIES
20. An open space strategy provides an effective means of co-ordinating the policies of the different council departments with responsibilities for open space, and of focusing liaison and partnership working with relevant public, private and community interests. It should be a corporate document that both informs and is informed by other strategies and plans, including development plans, the Core Paths Plan and the community plan. It should also influence decisions on spending and investment.
21. An open space strategy can help local authorities and their strategic partners move towards a more structured, rigorous and rounded analysis of open space supply and requirements. Its preparation can require a major commitment of staff resources. However, some information or analysis is likely to exist within council departments and partner organisations. Paying greatest attention to particular types of spaces such as sports pitches or children's play space, or to neighbourhoods or settlements where open space provision is poor or under particular threat, can make the task more manageable but the audit and strategy must both be comprehensive in their approach.
22. A strategy should comprise four elements:
- a strategic framework and vision for open space;
- an audit of existing open space provision;
- an assessment of current and future requirements; and
- a strategy statement with a clear set of priorities and actions.
STRATEGIC FRAMEWORK AND VISION
23. The process of strategy development and implementation must begin with a shared understanding between the local authority and its strategic partners. This should take the form of an agreed strategic framework and a vision outlining the partners' aspirations for open space in terms of its distribution, quality and the functions which open spaces are expected to fulfil. This will set the policy, strategic and practical contexts within which the open space resource is audited, quality and fitness for purpose are assessed and strategic decisions are taken. The strategic framework and vision may be presented as an initial strategy statement with sign-up from the key partners.
OPEN SPACE AUDITS
24. The essential elements of an audit are to record the type, functions, size, condition, location and maintenance requirements of the spaces and to provide some insight on levels of use. The process should also identify community views on the value of open spaces and aspirations for their future role. It may sometimes be useful to record details such as ownership or any history of flooding. Qualitative indicators, for example ranking quality and condition of facilities, can help to establish fitness for purpose.
25. External bodies such as amenity groups, residents' associations or consultants may be able to carry out audit work, guided by local authority staff. The use of a Geographic Information System ( GIS) allows the data to be overlaid with information on planning consents and development plan policy. Importantly, the use of GIS will allow the information to be shared widely.
Open space audits with the help of Geographic Information Systems
In 2007, Greenspace Scotland led an initiative to create digital maps of greenspace with 12 local authorities. Using an approach previously developed in the Glasgow & Clyde Valley Structure Plan area in 2004, greenspace was mapped according to the PAN 65 typology, based on aerial photographs and local authority datasets.
As part of this initiative, South, East and North Ayrshire Councils worked with consultants to create a digital map of greenspace. Staff from the local authorities were closely involved in advising on the work and providing quality assurance. Since completing the greenspace mapping, South Ayrshire Council has developed GIS tools to allow staff to update the dataset as changes in land use occur. This means that the greenspace map can support current and future open space audit and strategy work throughout Ayrshire.
26. Greenspace Scotland can offer advice and guidance on the development of open space audits and strategies. sportscotland can offer advice and guidance on the development of a sports pitches strategy, which should ideally be carried out as part of the wider open space strategy, and may be able to help fund this work. sportscotland's Guide to the Preparation of Sports Pitch Strategies gives further guidance.
ASSESSING CURRENT AND FUTURE REQUIREMENTS
27. Audit information will form the basis of an assessment of current and future needs. Different types of open space require to be considered separately. This can be thought of most simply as 'supply-led', 'demand-led' and 'standards-based' approaches. Where there is a mix of characteristics, the primary use of the space should be the guide.
28. Spaces most suited to a supply-led approach are urban parks and gardens, civic spaces, woodlands and other natural greenspaces. This should assess the existing size and distribution of spaces against their current and future role and allow for the formulation of a strategy that protects and enhances these spaces, extending and linking them where feasible.
29. A demand-led approach is suited to those spaces for which a quantifiable demand can be identified, for example, sports facilities and functional spaces such as cemeteries and allotments. This should allow the local authority to consult with relevant user groups or carry out necessary survey work in order to establish the demand for facilities.
Fields in Trust: 'Planning and Design for Outdoor Sport and Play'
The 2008 revision of Fields in Trust's Six Acre Standard, now called Planning and Design for Outdoor Sport and Play, clarifies that the standard relates only to outdoor play space, which is not the only form of open space. Fields in Trust now recommends the use of Benchmark Standards relating to quantity, quality and accessibility as a guide and helpful tool to those local authorities determining their own local standards. The quantitative aspect of the Standards indicates provision per 1000 population of 4 acres (1.6 hectares) for outdoor sport, including pitches and greens; and 2 acres (0.8 hectares) for children's playing space.
Where standards are required this may act as a useful starting point, but it should not substitute for standards developed locally which take into account existing and desired quality, quantity and accessibility of open space. Fields in Trust emphasises the need for local authorities to carry out a robust assessment of needs, and stresses that use of the Standards in isolation will lead to inappropriate land use policies.
30. Where the need for a type of space is broadly the same everywhere, or where the demand for a particular use is difficult to quantify, for example when attempting to predict future community needs in a new housing area, it may be appropriate to use a standards-based approach. However, any standards should be carefully tailored to the circumstances of the area and a single standard will not be suitable for all parts of the country, even for all communities within the same local authority. Very different standards are also likely to be required for different functions such as play areas for children and teenagers and informal recreation areas.
31. Standards should contain three elements:
- quality - a benchmark against which quality can be measured;
- quantity - an amount of space per house unit or head of population; and
- accessibility - at its simplest, distance thresholds for particular types of open space. Planning authorities may prefer to develop accessibility standards which take account of barriers to access (such as busy roads) and of actual travel distances rather than straight-line distance.
32. The strategy statement brings together the audit and assessment in a coherent vision with clear policies and a set of priorities for action. The statement must set out deficiencies and problems and make explicit the choices and their implications. In the absence of a statement, the danger of ad hoc losses of open space, through speculative development proposals, increases.
33. An open space strategy has a number of advantages:
- heightened public awareness of the resource and the issues surrounding its protection and management;
- improved rationale for policy, land disposal and spending decisions;
- stronger basis for accessing funds for improvements in provision (see Annex 2 for information on funding sources); and
- a basis for greater partnership working with other organisations and bodies interested in the development, management and use of open space.
Hamilton Palace Grounds
Hamilton Palace Grounds, part of Strathclyde Country Park and close to Hamilton town centre, included an extensive area of playing field and other outdoor sports facilities. Although well used, these facilities were of poor quality and low environmental value. The redevelopment of the town centre provided an opportunity to upgrade the facilities. The project was led by the Hamilton Ahead Initiative with funding from the Council, ERDF and the lottery funds of sportscotland and the Scottish Arts Council. New and improved sports facilities include natural turf sport pitches, indoor and outdoor synthetic grass pitches, tennis courts, bowling greens, a 9-hole golf course and a changing pavilion. With its well-designed landscaping, public footpaths and public art features, the project demonstrates that good quality outdoor sports facilities can form an attractive green space.
34. The open space needs and desires of the local community must be established. Attention should be paid to the aspirations of all communities and interests, including ethnic minorities and vulnerable groups, women, children, older people and those with disabilities. Community Councils can provide a useful starting point. Community planning mechanisms may also help channel wider community aspirations into the open space strategy.
35. Street or neighbourhood surveys can help to establish what types of spaces are needed and wanted in an area. In developing the open space strategy for Inverness, green inverness - a partnership based on the City Partnership - carried out consultation surveys in local shopping centres and community buildings which provided them with valuable information to supplement the site-based audits carried out by consultants. This allowed the partnership to identify local community priorities for the green and civic spaces across the city. A similar approach used by Lower Clyde Greenspace in both Inverclyde and parts of Argyll and Bute trained local community members to carry out street-based surveys to identify which spaces local people used and valued and what they saw as the priorities for action.
36. Community involvement is not only about local residents and businesses, but also about the specific users of spaces. Interests such as sports clubs, youth groups, ramblers, wildlife groups, civic associations and local history societies will also have an important input to the process.
Abbotshaugh Community Woodland
Abbotshaugh Community Woodland near Falkirk is a community led environmental project which began in 1995. The community has formed a group which aims to play an increasing role in managing the 70 hectare site, and a range of accessibility and environmental improvements have been made through joint working between the community and partner agencies. Recently, the Abbotshaugh Community Woodland Group carried out a piece of action research (as part of the multi-agency Greenspace Scotland project Demonstrating the Links) which has given them a greater understanding of how local people use the site and how it could be developed in the future.
Copperworks Housing Co-operative, Royston Backlands
In Royston in Glasgow, the Copperworks Housing Co-operative established a multi-agency partnership, levering in a range of funding and resources to transform derelict land next to their refurbished housing stock.
The Co-operative had been unable to secure funds for the transformation of the Backlands as part of the original refurbishment of its housing stock. However, once the condition of the outside spaces started to have a negative impact on the newly refurbished homes, they took action and committed their own reserves to improving them. The Co-operative was then successful in accessing additional funding to support the project and worked with other partners, including Glasgow North and Kelvin Clyde Greenspace, to complete the transformation. The project has delivered a range of outcomes: creating a safe, attractive environment which is the focal point for activities; creating a real sense of ownership, pride and community; and increasing local skills and employment opportunities by delivering the project as part of an employment training scheme. The involvement of local people has been crucial to the success of the project, resulting in a space that people want to use whilst at the same time building community cohesion and generating further community led action. As a result the Co-operative is also working with residents to transform the communal back courts to provide attractive garden areas for each close.
In working closely with residents to create a space that people want to keep, and by adapting its own rent and charging structures to factor in fees for its upkeep as part of maintenance charges to tenants and residents, the Co-operative has assured the long term sustainability of the Backlands.