Suffolk: Bid to save country parks launched
A CAMPAIGN has been launched to bring a halt to plans that would see funding for 21 of the county’s country parks axed.
Suffolk County Council claims it would save more than �400,000 by turning the sites - which include including Clare Castle Country Park, Knettishall Heath Country Park, Lavenham Walk and Belstead Meadows - over to community groups to run them.
However, critics last night accused the county council of “rushing” and warned the future of the 21 sites would be put in jeopardy if it went ahead with plans to stop funding them from April.
A campaign called Save Suffolk’s Country Parks has been launched urging the council to halt its plans.
The campaign’s founder Alan Anstead, who lives in Long Melford near Sudbury, said country parks were very important to the county and were in constant use by dog walkers, joggers, children and anybody wanting to stay healthy and enjoy the outdoors.
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He said: “These are difficult times financially. A halt to this entire process would be ideal - though I don’t think it is going to happen.
“At the very least a period of transition and for the county council to continue funding parks until the safeguards are in place to ensure other organisations could run them successfully.
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“The county council is talking about relinquishing them from April - that does not give enough time for organisations to do their due diligence. It is being rushed.
“The question we are asking is whether people are interested in the future of their country parks and do they want to say something about this?”
An online petition launched by Mr Anstead has already attracted dozens of signatures and he is calling on others to join in.
Some of those organisations which might take over the running of the parks say they have been left “totally in the dark”.
At a meeting of Sudbury Town Council on Tuesday night councillor Nigel Bennett said: “It is completely unclear what the council are saying.
“If we don’t come forward to take over the running and funding of our parks and recreation sites does that mean they will be locked up or simply left unmaintained?
“There is no indication of what is going to happen or what the consequences are if and when funding ends in April which has left us totally in the dark.”
County Council member Judy Terry said: “We are encouraging all local groups and organisations who may wish to take on the running of a countryside site to register their interest with us.
“We have asked that they let us know by January 14, although expressions of interest will be accepted after this date.
“We will be holding sessions throughout February to allow those interested parties to talk directly to managers to explore in more depth the available options and answer questions.
“We know that many of the sites we currently manage are valued by local communities and we want to give local people the opportunity to take charge and determine their future.
“The final decision on whether Suffolk County Council continues to fund the country parks and recreation sites will be made by full council on February 17 as part of the budget process.
“Decisions will then be taken on the future operation of country parks and recreations sites.”
A final decision will be made at full council meeting on February 17. For further information visit www.suffolk.gov.uk/countryside.
To sign Mr Anstead’s petition visit http://petitions.web-labs.co.uk/suffolkcc/public/Save-Suffolk-s-Country-Parks.