Suffolk County Council cuts Greenways Project funding
An Ipswich area environment project has lost cash support from one of its key partners.
Suffolk County Council has withdrawn its funding from a highly acclaimed and long-standing conservation project that protects and enhances about 100 square kilometres of countryside and green spaces around Ipswich.
The cash cut of more than £14,500 will leave a “massive hole” in the finances of the Greenways Countryside Project, a partnership involving Ipswich Borough Council, Babergh and Suffolk Coastal district councils and the Conservative-controlled county council.
Currently with two staff members and calling on an army of volunteers, Greenways has carried out immense amounts of wildlife habitat creation and management over 24 years - resulting in huge benefits for nature and people.
The county council Cabinet’s decision to make the cut was strongly criticised by the authority’s Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group. It said: “Suffolk County Council (SCC) has for years been a core funding contributor to Greenways - in 2014-15, the £14,544 contribution from SCC accounted for over 10% of the project’s total expenditure. There is no doubt that a sudden cut in funding will severely hinder how effectively volunteers can complete the conservation work which protects Suffolk’s beautiful countryside.”
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Group spokeswoman Inga Lockington added: ““This is so much more than an environmental issue - it is a public health issue, and should be treated as such by SCC. I am aware of many residents who have gained a valuable sense of purpose by volunteering with Greenways. With mental health issues on the rise, it is vital that we support organisations which offer volunteering opportunities to our communities. There is absolutely no justification for the removal of this funding.”
Deputy group leader Andrew Stringer said: “We’re always hearing that the council want to make Suffolk the UK’s ‘greenest county’. This cut makes a mockery of that aim. It also ignores entirely the council’s own Suffolk Nature Strategy, which pledged to ‘ensure Suffolk’s natural environment is conserved and enhanced for future generations’. We simply cannot achieve that goal without the hard work of projects such as Greenways.”
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Greenways manager James Baker said the decision would leave a “massive hole in our finances.”
“Out of our total annual budget of £108,000 we get £58,000 from the county and district councils and the rest comes from various sources such as parish councils and grants,” he said.
“With about 15% taken out there is bound to be an impact. Either we will do less – on fewer sites and with less response to issues – or we will have to do things differently. It will be a struggle but we will have to do our best to ensure the impact is as limited as possible.”
Matthew Hicks, Cabinet member with responsibility for the environment and public protection, said funding from central government had been reduced and “we have to make savings across the board.”
He added: “In the environmental area we have in the past eight years withdrawn funding for similar projects and we have funded Greenways for longer than other countryside projects, so you could argue it’s been given preferential treatment.”
It was considered that Greenways had the opportunity to develop “more innovative and commercial” funding models.
Mr Hicks added: “These decisions are never easy to make. We will continue to use Greenways for the management of Belstead Meadows, which they charge us for, and the majority of their work is with Ipswich Borough, Babergh and Suffolk Coastal, so we are not their only funding source.”