Postcode lottery warning over future of Milton Keynes grass cutting

Milton Keynes landscape
Milton Keynes landscape

All the grass cutting and landscaping work on public green spaces across Milton Keynes could be handed over to the Parks Trust and parish councils from next year.

Milton Keynes Council has its eyes set on the ending of its five year £2million private landscaping contract with Serco, and on instead spending the money with The Parks Trust and parish councils.

Councillors decided to push on with the work at a meeting of the Cabinet on Tuesday. They are also looking at handing over other responsibilities to the network of 47 parishes.

The Parks Trust charity already handles work on 25 per cent of the council’s land under a 999 year lease arrangement, with six parish councils, including West Bletchley taking on work, too.

Now, some 13 parishes have expressed an interest in taking on the work from March 2020 and are working with the borough. Many of the others have not expressed an interest.

Conservative group leader Cllr Alex Walker fears that “there is a risk that we could end up with a postcode lottery of landscaping in Milton Keynes.” He warned that, even though he absolutely loved the idea in principle, he believed that the borough could do more to engage with the parishes.

“I still have real concerns that not all parishes will either want it or be able to deliver it.”

Cllr Keith McLean is concerned that parishes aren’t forced to take on services that they cannot handle. “They haven’t got the staff, they haven’t got the contract managers to check on the quality, or whether the work has been done. They have one clerk.”

Cllr Sam Crooks said he is a trustee of The Parks Trust but was speaking in a personal capacity. A ‘great supporter’ of the plan he said: “We know how much our residents derive great pride in the city, very much from its visual appearance, the trees, the green spaces and so on.

“Anything the we can do to make sure that is safeguarded and improved for the future must be welcomed and that is what i believe this initiative will do.”

He added that: “If the parishes wish to continue, or embark upon arrangements for their own, the role of the trust will be to complement those and certainly not to take them over.”

Cllr Moriah Priestley said: “I really want to stress the fact that there is open communication, we do make the effort. We have forum meetings where the parishes set the agenda.”

Cllr Nigel Long said the devolution had worked well in West Bletchley. “It’s been a real success,” he said. “There’s areas of well cut grass near to areas which haven’t been cut back. We find the areas not being cut back are the council’s contractor doing a bad job.

“I’m a very strong supporter of devolution.”

Cllr Martin Gowans, the cabinet member for Public Realm, said there was “no desire” to force the parishes to take this forward.

“Postcode lottery comes down to treating all areas of the borough fairly not just saying to parishes: off you go. We don’t think that would be fair at all.”

Council officers have been empowered to take the issue forward and report to a meeting of the Cabinet in June, after borough elections.