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  • Alexandra Road Park in 1979, soon after completion.
  • LUC’s masterplan for Brockwell Park, south London, was HLF funded
  • Gorple Reservoir, part of the award-winning Pennine Watershed landscape.
  • Play area at Town Centre Gardens.
  • The restored lake promenade.

Park life

Parks are one of the few areas of landscape where money is consistently made available, thanks to allocations of funding through the National Lottery. We look at the way money is allotted for these and other landscape projects and at the importance of local involvement.
In these straitened times there are not many sources of money around so the landscape profession, along with other members of the built environment, should be grateful for the largesse of the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). Last autumn it announced its latest new allocation of funding — £70 million for the Parks for People programme which, along with £30 million from BIG, the Big Lottery Fund, makes a total of £100 million to be spent over three years.

Local authorities, community trusts and friends’ groups will be able to access grants ranging from £100,000 to £5 million for the improvement of parks and cemeteries. And this is neither a one off nor the only money that the organisation makes available. This latest round is the new money that will be available for this particular programme from April 2013,but Parks for People is already an ongoing programme. Previous beneficiaries have ranged from Walpole Park in Ealing, the backdrop to the Grade I listed Pitzhanger Manor, to Victoria Park in St Helens. Applications are opening now, and since the money will be awarded in two chunks, there are deadlines in February (this month) and August for decisions in June and December.

Another targeted programme is Landscape Partnerships, started in 2004 and offering grants ranging from £100,000 to £3 million. The programme is for schemes led by partnerships of local, regional and national interests which aim to conserve areas of distinctive landscape character throughout the UK.

An evaluation of the Landscape Partnerships programme in 2011 by the Centre for European Protected Area Research at Birkbeck College, found that ‘Many project activities will result in longterm benefits to our heritage, while there is good evidence to show that the impact on local communities, private landowners, third-sector organisations and statutory agencies as well as a diverse range of individuals, has in some instances been profound and can be expected to endure. The programme has been effective in delivering “people” benefits at the same time as conservation outcomes over the natural and built heritage at a landscape scale. The programme depends on local enterprise and is focused on local needs; it leaves a legacy both of conserved heritage and strengthened civil society.’

Areas that have received funding have been as remote as Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands and as built-up as the Medway Valley in the southeast of England. The Pennine Watershed Landscape, which won the 2012 UK Landscape Award last November, is a Landscape Partnership. The next round of funding will be awarded in October, with a deadline of May for applications. The targeted programmes provide funding for areas where the HLF has identified that there are specific needs for investment. But it also has open programmes, under which bodies can apply for money for projects which they believe to be deserving. Our Heritage offers grants ranging from £10,000 to £100,000, with a decision process of eight weeks. Applications for the current round opened this month. Heritage Grants are larger, ranging from £100,000 to £5 million and, as with Our Heritage, applications have just opened. The decision time is 12 weeks.

There are three things that make grants from the HLF attractive. The first is that there money available, a result both of people continuing to buy lottery tickets in a recession and of the Government’s decision to increase the proportion of the Lottery’s good causes budget that goes to heritage. As a result, whereas the current strategic plan, written in 2008, allowed for grants of £180 million a year to be available, in 2012–13 the actual sum is £375 million.

The next is that the amount of match funding that the HLF looks for has decreased, in recognition of the difficult financial situation. Whereas once it used to require bidders to provide 25% of the funding, now it only looks for 5% in grants of up to £1 million, and 10% for larger projects. But Drew Bennellick, Head of Landscape and Natural Heritage UK at the HLF, is heartened by the fact that very few applicants in fact ask for the maximum amount — they find sources locally for more than the minimum.

The other cause for celebration is the flexible approach of the HLF. Adrian Wikeley, principal landscape architect with LUC, said, ‘We have worked with the HLF since 1996 on a number of projects. They have become rather less purist in their approach to the restoration of parks and gardens. This is quite right. It is the people’s money, and they expect it to be spent on projects that have public benefit.’

Bennellick explains that the HLF’s definition of heritage is broader than simply encompassing registered landscapes. ‘It is very much for communities to tell us what they value,’ he says. He is adamant that ‘There is no point in restoring something if it has no modern uses,’ but adds, ‘If you can get people to understand how it has been shaped, you can bring people with you.’ He gives an example of a Victorian park, neglected like so many, where there was a pressure for new paths. But once the original plan had been explained, with its hierarchy of carriage paths, promenade paths and narrower footpaths, it became evident that in fact it fulfilled most contemporary needs. The HLF will fund new work where it feels that it is needed but tends to discourage projects that include very large elements of new construction. Its priority is always to discover if it is possible to conserve something or give an old building a new use, before it will sanction entirely new construction.

Bennellick says, ‘I am keen to dispel the myth that we only do Victorian parks’. HLF and BIG introduced funding for cemeteries to the new parks programme launched in October 2012, a fascinating and demanding area in which to work. The other important field is the 20th Century park. Stevenage Town Centre gardens was the first New Town landscape to receive HLF funding, with the work led by HTA (opposite), and others have followed.

In 2010, for example, HLF and later BIG provided initial support for the restoration of Alexandra Road Park, part of the pioneering Grade II* listed housing development in Camden, north London.

Completed in 1978, the scheme includes a long, thin park providing much needed open space, but which was the subject of serious neglect. While in some ways this has been benign, with for instance trees growing to magnificent maturity, most of the impact was depressing.

Janet Jack, the landscape architect who worked on the initial project with architect Neave Brown, said, ‘I was asked to design for low maintenance, but I hadn’t expected no maintenance.’ Over the years, cheap playground equipment (bought on a tight budget) deteriorated and was not replaced. Broken railings protecting planting were left, allowing damage to planting beds, and vandalism crept in.

Without support of HLF’s Parks for People programme, the work that has been done to draw up plans for the future, led by the residents in partnership with Camden Council, could not have happened, and it looks as if the park will have a future which at one point seemed out of reach. Part of this will involve a new maintenance regime, an area to which HLF gives a lot of attention. It has tried to be proscriptive, allocating money for maintenance as well as the initial work, and providing a stick where it is necessary. ‘The parks that work well,’ said Bennellick, ‘are those where friends’ groups, park managers and local politicians have very good relationships. When we are awarding grants, we look for a step change in how the park is managed.’

The HLF then is a responsible and generous donor. With BIG it has invested more than £640 million since 1996, and transformed more than 700 historic public spaces. With a total of around 27,000 parks in the UK, there is still plenty to do. Let’s hope people keep buying those lottery tickets.
The restored lake promenade

The restored lake promenade

Case Study:
Stevenage Town Centre Gardens
Stevenage Town Centre Gardens are the first New Town and modernist park to be restored through funding provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund; an acknowledgement of the gardens’ contribution to post war design and planning. They represent an important period when philosophical, cultural and social aspirations were delivered through an integrated approach to town and landscape planning.

The project has faithfully restored the structure, character and heritage features within the gardens. New interventions have been created within under-used parts of the park (an unrealised part of the original masterplan) that combine with the restoration to give a renewed relevance for the future.

At over 40 years’ old, the 3.85 hectare Town Centre Gardens in Stevenage had fallen into decline and were generally perceived as neglected and unsafe. While many people walked through the park on their way to the town centre, actual use was low.

In 2006, Stevenage Borough Council appointed HTA to create a new vision for the Town Centre Gardens that revealed and restored its heritage whilst transforming it into a welcoming, exciting place for the twenty first century. The masterplan restores the park’s historic structure and its principal feature, the pond. It provides sensory gardens, an enlarged play area and new WC facilities to attract more people to the park and encourage them to stay for longer periods.

More than 100 trees were removed in the northern and eastern sections of the park to reinstate the open spaces and reveal the historic tree massing — groups of Norway maples combined with the farmland trees that predated the park. Scrub and municipal amenity shrubs were cleared to reinstate views. A new layer of memorial trees was planted to replace veteran trees as they reach the end of their life span.

The lake was dredged and its revetment replaced. HTA worked with the original artist, David Norris, to restore the Women and Doves sculpture which won the Royal British Society of Sculptors’ Otto Beit Medal for Excellence in Architecture when it was first installed in 1982.

A new centrepiece of the refurbished gardens is a pre-stressed granite bridge designed by HTA and engineered in Germany by Kusser Aicha Granitwerke, spanning almost 14m with a deck thickness of only 28cm and a weight of 22 tonnes. The bridge has no beam or piers and is the only one of its kind in the UK.

HTA designed bespoke concrete planters for the new sensory gardens. At over 7m by 7m, each planter consists of two interlocking triangles with walls that twist from vertical to a 60 degree inclination.

HTA designed the patterned relief to the WC elevation and worked with the precast specialist to ensure the success and durability of the design. The graphic is a visual reference to the cast concrete relief on the nearby underpass, created by the well know contemporary artist, William Mitchell, in 1973.

The path network has been rationalised and furniture has been carefully selected and located to compliment the aesthetic of the park. More than 1500 roses have been planted in addition to new herbaceous planting to reintroduce colour and scent to the park.

• HTA Landscape Design: lead consultant, project manager, contract administrator and landscape designer;
• Marylla Hunt: heritage;
• Green Heart Partnership and Haring Woods Associates: community engagement;
• PBA: engineer;
• Davis Langdon: quantity surveyor;
• The Landscape Group: constructor.

James Lord is director of landscape design at HTA

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