Chairperson’s Report 2015

1. David Bellotti

I would like to start with a tribute to David Bellotti who sadly died two weeks ago. He was a great friend of Alexandra Park. He actively supported the initial meetings set up by the Greenway Lane Area Residents Association in 2007 to discuss residents’ concerns about the safety and upkeep of the park. He was helpful in the development in 2010 of these meetings into a free standing and properly constituted association, the Alexandra Park Forum and in its transition in 2014 into the Alexandra Park Friends. He was always helpful in the resolution of issues with the council, council officers and Beechen Cliff School. He was a great supporter of improvements to the park, such as the provision of additional play equipment and an all-weather path to the play area. He used his councillors’ fund to enhance the park through the provision of a table tennis table and, more recently, a basketball hoop. He was also very influential in getting agreement by the council to allow the money put aside for the negotiations to get the National Trust to take on responsibility for Beechen Cliff to be used on projects to improve the cliff, many of which have had a direct benefit to the park. These all stand as a fitting memorial to him. On behalf of the Friends, I sent our sincere condolences to his wife and family.

2.  What has happened in the last year?

Toilet Block
The planning application made in spring 2014 was withdrawn and then resubmitted without the proposal for use of the remaining space as a retail unit. The block was refurbished in autumn 2014. Although the introduction of a charge was not welcomed, in practice we are not aware of any issues. The improved standard of the toilets is evident as is their better maintenance.
Gate pillar
In autumn 2014, the main gate pillar was knocked down again, this time by a coach. It has been reinstated and we have had extensive discussions with the council about measures to prevent a reoccurrence. These include the introduction of sacrificial bollards to narrow the entrance; widening of the pavements either side to change the perception that the park is an extension to Shakespeare Avenue; and pressuring the school to remove ‘Alexandra Park’ from their official address. Despite early optimism and promises of early action on some items, none of these has yet come to fruition.
Removal of the cliff hedge
Following comments by the Green Flag assessor in 2014 about the aesthetics of the hedge and its effect on the safety of people using the path at the top of Beechen Cliff, the parks department consulted us on its removal. Initially, the Friends were unanimously opposed but after discussion and further thought moved to a more split view. The hedge was removed in May although the roots have yet to be grubbed out. What is done to the park edge needs further discussion and action.
Loss of two trees
Two trees were lost in the last year. One burnt and the other blown down. Why one caught fire was never definitively determined.
Reorganisation of the parks department
In early 2015, the parks department was comprehensively reorganised with several existing officers taking redundancy. A new structure is being implemented. In the meantime our main point of contact is a consultant on temporary contract who is overseeing the changes.
Loss of Green Flag status
Alexandra Park was not awarded a Green Flag in 2014. The main reasons were the lack of development of the management plan and the failure to development an ecology plan and a tree plan. Community involvement also received less marks because there was no major community event in 2014.

3.  Achievements 

Picnic in the Park
The Picnic in the Park on 21st June was another outstanding event. The weather was again favourable and the music, events and refreshments were excellent. The result was a greatly enjoyable and truly community event. Our grateful thanks to Judy Boyd and her team.
Wild flower beds
With considerable hard work by the volunteers on the preparation and a successful spring event to do the sowing, the two wild flower areas have again been developed in the park. These are coming into flower and beginning to look attractive.
Community action days
Community action days have been held at least once every month, come rain, ice or shine for the last year. These sessions are well supported but of course with more people we could achieve more. As well as litter picking and preparing the wild flower beds, work has continued to maintain the two stands of trees between the toilet block and the Bowls Club, control the brambles, control the growth of brambles and other vegetation along the cliff path and maintain the chicanes.
Bird boxes
Beechen Cliff School boys made a number of bird boxes for us out of a supply of old organ pipes that we were offered. These were put up in time for the nesting season. The existing boxes were all cleaned out and their fixings checked in the autumn. Our thanks to Andrew Lawrence who organised this, to Gary for assistance in putting up the boxes and to the boys for making the boxes.
Although the park lost its Green Flag, there were two awards last year –
A silver gilt award to the park in the RHS Britain in Bloom parks scheme; and
A level 4: Thriving award to the friends in the It’s Your Neighbourhood scheme.

4.  Concerns

Reorganisation of the parks department and future budgets
The reorganisation of parks department mentioned above is not yet fully complete nor has it had time to ‘bed down’. There also remains uncertainty about their future budgets in the light of the change of administration in Bath and central government policy towards local authorities.
Management plan for the park
A new management plan for the park is being developed by the parks department. We have had some discussions on possible items to be included but until we see a full draft, we do not know what it will contain nor can we cannot consider it in detail.
Ecology plan
An ecology plan has been developed by the parks department. Items that reduce maintenance costs, such as removal of the cliff hedge and reduced mowing of certain areas were part of this plan and they have been implemented. We are supportive of other elements such as new planting to improve the appearance of the park and developments to increase biodiversity. We have offered our help. But until these ideas are incorporated into the management plan and are given appropriate budgets, they remain just proposals.
Beechen Cliff School 5 year development plan
Beechen Cliff School has recently produced a 5 year development plan. This is not yet funded and detailed planning applications have not yet been made. If the plan is implemented in full, the view from the park to the south will be further degraded although none of the proposed building will be higher than existing structures, some views through the gaps between the existing buildings will be lost. On the other hand, temporary structures close to the park boundary will be removed and car parking within the school will increase. However, until action is taken to control long term parking within the park is taken, people coming to the school will still use the park.
Parking on the park
The level of long term parking by non-park users remains a significant concern. Because the issue of how to control parking is inextricably linked to parking in the surrounding roads, we are taking forward this issue with the Bear Flat Association, with their traffic committee taking the lead. We have a statement on what they are doing later in the agenda.
Future of the Friends
The Friends (with its fore-runner the Forum) has now been going for 5 years. It has achieved much but it is entirely dependent on volunteer effort. We need more volunteers to help on community action days and at events like Picnic-in-the-Park. In addition we need people willing to serve on the committee to discuss and plan what we do. Membership of this group is open to anyone who contributes in any way to the activities of the Friends. We also need additional people willing to do more and take responsibility for aspects of what we do. Finally, and perhaps most importantly for the continued survival of the association, a new chairperson with the vision, energy and drive to take the organisation forward for the next period is urgently required.

5.  Thanks

Judy Boyd – for stepping in to organise the recent magnificent Picnic-in-the-Park
Lesley Baker – for acting as secretary for three years and for organising the magnificent raffle at the Picnic-in-the Park
Other elected officers, Geoff Lee and Collin Carr
Vicki Skelsey – for auditing the accounts
All the volunteers for all their support, assistance and hard work in the last year.

Julian David
25th June 20

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