Committee Report NSC

                                                                                Item 8.1

North Somerset Council

 

REPORT TO THE Strategic Planning and Economic Development Policy and Scrutiny Panel

 

Date of Meeting: 24th November 2008

 

Subject of Report: Natural Environment Review

 

Town or parish: whole of district

 

Officer/Member presenting: Director of development & environment

 

Key Decision: NO

 

 

RECOMMENDATIONS

 

That the Strategic Planning and Economic Development Policy and Scrutiny Panel note the progress with the implementation of the Natural Environment Review and development of the Green Infrastructure Strategy

 

1.                  Summary of Report

 

The report sets out to update members on the implementation of the Natural Environment review and two key associated aspects. For Members information the technical content of the report is arranged as follows;

 

(a)   Natural Environment Review

(b)   Green Infrastructure Strategy

(c)   Relationship between the Strategy and the Natural Environment service area

(d)   Environmental Partnerships

(e)   Progress with implementation of the review

 

The report aims to provide Panel Members with a clear understanding of the progress of the review, including budgetary savings, progress of the emerging Green Infrastructure strategy and it’s relationship to the Natural Environment Teams. The report also outlines the major environmental partnerships their purpose and budgetary dimensions.

 

 

2.                Policy

 

The overall approach is to ensure that resources are directed to realise the strategic outcomes. Including positive actions in response to new duties placed upon Local Authorities to ensure sustainable development is underpinned by richness of bio-diversity, provision of green infrastructure and community engagement.

 

Furthermore that future strategy development is based on evidence leading to clear choices on improvements, community engagement and asset management. The evidence base needs to include:

 

·        Ecology surveys

·        Audit of facilities

·        Quantitative and Qualitative assessment of “green spaces” and their current and future functions

·        Community awareness and engagement – levels and opportunities

·        Public user information

·        Green infrastructure concepts embedded to improve quality and accessibility and deliver sustainable growth

 

In addition commissioning capacity to implement current maintenance and investment programmes that better reflects the emerging strategy thus achieving a diversity of natural green spaces that are closely connected to the needs of the community, their involvement and varied in their function.

 

3.                Details

 

a) Natural Environment Review.

 

As panel members are aware the review originated from work undertaken by the Strategic Planning and Economic Development Policy and Scrutiny Panel as part of the budget setting exercise for the 2008/09 financial year.

 

The focus for the review in the first instance was around landscape design and access development from a purely budgetary perspective but was then broadened to the full natural environment service provision with a refocused service provision perspective and a budget saving requirement.

 

The overall aim of the review was to deliver an integrated service which maintains the management and stewardship of the natural environment and “green” infrastructure whilst delivering a £100k budgetary saving, this is made up of £75K in 2008/09 with the remaining £25k to be identified from a range of options for the 2009/10 budget.

 

This review reflects the importance of the environment in North Somerset and statutory responsibilities for protecting and improving the environment whilst being faced with budgetary pressures over the medium term.

 

The new service now includes the following service areas:

 

·        Public Rights of Way

·        Countryside Access

·        Trees

·        Countryside sites

·        Parks

·        Landscape Design

·        Parks DSO

·        Ecology and Biodiversity

·        Partnership Grants

 

The new Natural Environment Service is about embracing an ethic of integrated working across the often separate areas of policy strategy and operational delivery.  Set out on Appendix A is the finalised structure for Panel Members information.

 

The new service area is lead by the Area Manager (Environmental Management) the key role for this post will be to ensure integration across work areas. Further more all operational delivery will be guided by policies and actions outlined within the Green Infrastructure Strategy as discussed in Section 3(b) below.

 

b) The Green Infrastructure Strategy

 

Green Infrastructure is the network of parks, open spaces, waterways, woodlands, trees, countryside, green corridors and the coastal strip within and between our towns and villages, across the whole of North Somerset.

 

The Green Infrastructure enhances our quality of life, is an important aspect of local identity and is a vital component of a sustainable community.

A Green Infrastructure strategy is being produced for North Somerset, the strategy will;

 

·        Raise the profile of the new Natural Environment team and guide its work and priorities.

·        Acknowledge the contribution that the Green Infrastructure makes in terms of providing ecosystem services, the importance of this and how to maximise these services in the management and development of the Green Infrastructure.

·        Be an asset management tool that helps determine;

o       the primary purpose of any component of the Green Infrastructure’

o       whether the component site meets its purpose, and if not then establish a gap analysis

o       how we can rationalise the Green Infrastructure and in particular those parts that we own

·        Encompass contemporary environmental issues including the national agenda, deliver against the Council’s priorities and objectives and be a functioning integral part of the performance management framework

·        Integrate within the Development Framework as a supplementary planning document especially;

o       offering guidance to planners and developers for existing provision

§         e.g. off-site contributions

o       offering guidance to planners and developers for new provision

§         e.g. design, fit

 

National Planning Policy Guidance 17 requires that Local Authorities should undertake audits of existing open space, sports and recreational facilities and the guidance provides an open space typology to support this.

 

For North Somerset a Green Infrastructure typology has been developed that aligns with the PPG 17 examples but has been adapted to be locally distinctive to North Somerset. The typology is as follows;


North Somerset Typology

Primary purpose

Aspiration

Examples

PPG 17 cross-reference

Formal Parks and Public Gardens

Accessible, high quality opportunities for recreation in a formal setting where horticultural practices dominate. Visitors drawn from within and outside the area

Distinctive horticultural management recognising the cultural value of traditional parks that engender civic pride and sense of place whilst making a contribution to the local economy.

Grove Park

Clarence Park west/east

Prince Consort Gardens

Town Square/Italian Gardens

Milton Rose Gardens

Worle High Street

Beach Lawns

Madeira Cove

Salthouse Fields

Green Beach

Alexandra Gardens

Pier Copse

Sunhill Park

Lake Grounds

Port Marine

Millennium Park

1

Community Parks

Informal greenspaces offering opportunities for recreation and biodiversity used by local people from,  and beyond, the immediate neighbourhood

High level of community engagement and involvement in site management.

Balance of community aspirations social and environmental needs of the site.

Ashcombe Park

Jubilee Park

Trendlewood Way

2

Neighbourhood Open Space

Informal greenspaces offering opportunities for recreation and biodiversity used by residents of the local neighbourhood

Assess the ‘people and wildlife’ (social and environmental) potential for each site, recognise prominent and, or, unique features and develop them to meet their full potential.

Castle Batch

Lynch Farm

Walford Avenue

Ebdon Grounds

Locking Castle

Marshall’s Field

Hither Green

Blackdown Road

Kilkenny Fields

2

Outdoor sports facilities

Participation in outdoor sports, such as pitch sports, tennis, bowls, athletics or countryside and water sports

See Sport and Leisure Built Facilities and Playing Pitch Strategies. Seek opportunities to complement sports pitch management with biodiversity objectives.

Drove Road

Hutton Moor

4

Woodland

Areas dominated by trees providing space for recreational activities, contributing to landscape quality and acting as an area for wildlife conservation

Woodlands must be healthy (i.e. diverse age and species composition) and accessible to people - where appropriate.

Weston Woods

Eastwood

Abbots Pool

Nowhere Woods

Strawberry Hill Woods

Pilgrims Way Wood

The Tips

2

Play Space

Fixed play space for children and young people , and areas with opportunity for play

See Play Strategy

 

6

Conservation site

Habitat and wildlife conservation, biodiversity, environmental education and awareness

Maximise biodiversity and safeguard valuable sites. Develop habitats to meet their full potential.

Uphill Hill

Dowlais Farm

Cadbury Hill

2

Allotment

Land dedicated for growing produce in urban areas – can include urban farms.

See Town/Parish Council strategies.

 

7

Cemeteries, closed churchyards, crematoria

Land used for burial

Ensure sites are managed sympathetically meeting the expectations of the bereaved and visitors. Maximise biodiversity opportunities where possible.

Closed churchyards

Weston super Mare crematorium

 

8

Green Corridors

Linear strips of land that connect open spaces allowing for the movement of people and wildlife

Existing green corridors managed to maximise their social, environmental (and economic) potentials.

Potential green corridors will also be investigated and all options considered for expanding or creating them where necessary.

Roadside verges, Strawberry Line

3

Coastal Land

Beaches, foreshore and headlands

 

Sand Bay

Clevedon beach

2

Rivers and Rhynes

Water courses that connect spaces allowing for the movement of wildlife and people.

Water quality is good, drainage functions effectively and biodiversity is enhanced. Recreational opportunities along banks, particularly walking, are improved.

Blind Yeo

Rhynes

 

Civic Space

Urban areas dominated by hard landscaping

 

Big Lamp Corner

9

Cross cutting issues and Guiding Principles

Certain elements and features of the Green Infrastructure cannot be defined by a typology, such as trees, or have their own distinctiveness such as Landscape Character areas (i.e. The Levels).

Trees

All non-woodland trees

A healthy tree population with a varied age range capable of growing to meet the needs of residents and to mitigate/adapt to the effects of climate change.

Street trees

 

Landscape Character

North Somerset’s distinctive rural landscapes.

The particular characteristics of each area will be recognised and enhanced where possible. Linkages/green infrastructure corridors between these areas will be an important.

Agricultural land

The Levels

The Mendips

 

Climate Change

This is a most contemporary of issues, we should seek to align this strategy with known best practise so that the actions emanating from the GI strategy will always reference the need to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

 

 

 


 

c) Relationship between the Strategy and the Natural Environment service area

 

The Natural Environment service is structured in a manner that allows a direct relationship between the work of the teams and the strategy; the strategy will directly guide the work of the Natural Environment teams and the teams will deliver the strategy on a day to day basis.

 

The strategy will continue to be developed to meet the aspirations of our communities and wider environmental objectives relating to, for example, biodiversity and air quality along with mitigating against the inevitable effects of climate change.

 

Currently the green infrastructure of North Somerset is being mapped by typology and is held on a GIS map system. Officers will be able to identify from the maps where areas of the green infrastructure are deficient and where through direct management, or partnership working, it can be enhanced or developed.

 

Where the green infrastructure is owned by North Somerset Council, i.e. parks in the urban areas, officers will be assigned, in cross disciplinary teams, specific typologies for which they must develop management criteria. These management plans will then be developed into a site by site management plan matrix.

 

This will ensure that all parks and open spaces will be managed in a cost effective manner that maximises community interaction and benefit and integrates the needs of people with that of wildlife and other environmental priorities.

 

The Green Infrastructure Strategy will be adopted as a Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) establishing clear guidance and standards that will be key information for planners and developers in the provision of design of new open spaces that will form a part of the green infrastructure.

 

As an SPD the strategy will enable both the Green Infrastructure Team and other professions within in Council to guide developers more clearly in the requirements around green spaces and in a manner that will positively contribute to the development of the green infrastructure of North Somerset.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

d) Environmental Partnerships Update.

 

 

Partnership

07/08 NSC contr.

Other partners

Total budget £

% of total spent in N. Som.

Comments

North Somerset Levels and Moors

(agreement ends 31 March 2008) (Cllr Jill Iles)

Lucy Rogers

lucyrogers@avonwildlifetrust.org.uk

£7,500

Environment Agency (10k)

English Nature (5k)

Avon Wildlife Trust (7.5k)

32,750

100%

Agreement needed with partner in respect of scope and outcome of service and benefits for community of North Somerset

Forest of Avon

(Agreement ends 31 March 2010. Termination 12 mths to end of FY) (Cllrs Barber, Cleland, Moulin)

Jon Clark

Jon.Clark@forestofavon.org.uk

£28,998

South Glos, BaNES, Bristol City

193,155

 

(of which £61,940 is external)

25%

 

Forest of Avon Trust being established, will allow access to membership and charitable funding.

Agreement needed with partner in respect of scope and outcome of service and benefits for community of North Somerset BANES have ceased funding.

 

Bristol Regional Environmental Records Centre

(Agreement ends 31 March 2009. Termination 12 mths to end of FY) (Cllr Moulin)

Tim Corner

tim.corner@brerc.org.uk

£20,400

South Glos, BaNES, Bristol City, English Nature, Environment Agency, Avon Wildlife Trust

110,000

25%

 

The outputs are understood and needed work currently being undertaken in respect of  business plan, governance and relationship between the cost to partners and the output of the unit.

Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

(Agreement ends 31 March 2011. Termination 12 mths to end of FY) (Cllrs Ap Rees, Harley)

Sarah Jackson

SJackson@somerset.gov.uk

£27,035

Somerset CC, BaNES, Mendip DC, Sedgemoor DC, Natural England, Forestry Comm, DEFRA, Environment Agency, English Heritage, Bristol Water, CLA, NFU

260,000

 

plus grant leverage approx. £150k/yr

20% approx.

 

There is a statutory duty to produce and implement a management plan for the AONB.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


e) Progress with the implementation of the review.

 

Following the panel budget working group on 16 January 2008 the aspiration was that the new Natural Environment Service would function as of the start of the 2008/09 financial year. However staff and Union consultations on the structure, production of modified and new job descriptions and consultation as well as job evaluation of all affected posts meant that the timescale had to be reset.

 

The finalised timescale is as follows:

 

Activity

Date

 

Notes

Change of Line Management Responsibilities

2 June 2008

All staff formally report to the Area Manager for Environment within the Streets & Open Spaces Group

Briefings with Staff and Trade Unions

July 2008

Briefings and opportunities for 1:1 meetings with either the Group Manager forStreets & Open Spaces or the Area Manager 

Development of Functions and new Job Descriptions

August & September 2008

Staff and Trade Union Consultation

Job Evaluation

August to November 2008

4 Formal JE Panels

Location of staff at Weston Court & Badger House

October 2008

 

Populate final structure

December 2008 to January 2009

Trade Union and Human Resources engagement

 

Progress against this timescale has been good and the review is on schedule if not slightly ahead of it.

 

All staff affected by the review are now located within the Streets and Open Spaces Group under the line management of the Area Manager; Environmental Management, this was implemented on 2 June 2008, since then;

 

·        the structure has been consulted upon and confirmed,

·        job descriptions have been drafted consulted upon and confirmed,

·        all posts have been evaluated

·        all staff have been moved into the new teams; Green Infrastructure team in Badger House, Access Team in Weston Court and Grounds DSO at Banwell depot

·        The team leaders are in place and the next task is to move current post holders into their new or modified job descriptions.

 

It is now anticipated that the review will be complete with all the teams fully functioning and starting to realise the service delivery the benefits of integrated working starting January 2009.

 

 

 

 

 

4.                Consultation

 

Consultation has been undertaken with staff, trade unions and stakeholders at key stages in respect of the formation and implementation of the review actions as detailed in the timescale set out in Section 3(a) above. In addition the Green Infrastructure Strategy will be the subject of a consultation exercise.

 

5.                Financial Implications

 

As Panel Members are aware the budget savings were discussed at the panel budget working group at their meeting of 27 November 2007 when concerns were voiced by the panel around PROW being under resourced and the impact on biodiversity and ecology of financial cuts.

 

The panel budget working group met again on 16 January 2008 and showed support for the amalgamation of functions into a single service comprising 3 teams which were identified at that time as being Green Infrastructure Development, Countryside and Access Development and the Grounds DSO.

 

At that meeting the panel voiced support for additional resources (capitalised post) to help deliver s106 projects and also acknowledged the identified level of savings set at £75k year 1 (2008/09) and a further in £25k year 2 (2009/10). The panel were made aware that the £25k savings would include a review of environmental partnership funding.

 

Due to the delays in implementing the review actions it is anticipated that £42,000 of the 2008/09 £75,000 saving will be made in 2008/09, however it is anticipated that the £75,000 will be fully achieved in 2009/10 financial year. 

 

In respect of the 2009/10 financial year additional target of £25,000 work has commenced on identifying these savings as part of the current budget saving exercise. Areas that are currently being considered are as per the Panel Working Group recommendations:

 

a) assessment of maintenance practice and contracts

b) use of commuted sums in future S106 agreements

c) examine income generation opportunities

d) administration of Local Access Forum

e) review of partnership funding provided

 

6.                Equality Implications

 

The Green Infrastructure strategy development is based on evidence leading to clear choices on improvements, community engagement and asset management with the aim of achieving a diversity of natural green spaces that are closely connected to the needs of the community, their involvement and varied in their function.

 

7.                Corporate Implications

 

The Natural Environment functions are core Council services that underpin the Councils Corporate Plan Aims and Priorities in particular these services contribute to: -

 

(i)                 Enhancing Health and Well Being

(ii)               Protecting and Improving the Environment.

 

And the Councils Priorities to:

 

(i)                   Address environmental concerns

(ii)                 Ensure development is well planned with a focus on creating quality facilities and employment opportunities

(iii)               Improve customer services

 

 

8.                Options considered

 

None as a direct result of this report

 

Author

 

Mark MacGregor

Area Manager (Environment)

mark.macgregor@n-somerset.gov.uk

Ext: 7353

 

Background Papers

 

Terms of Reference and background papers for the emerging Green Infrastructure Strategy

Staff and Trade Union Briefing Papers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Appendix A ~ Structure