In conversation - Euan Hall, The Land Trust

Christine de Ferrars Green talks to Euan Hall, Chief Executive of the Land Trust on the management of green spaces for communities.

The health and well-being aspects of the availability and use of green spaces has come to prominence in the past year.  They have, of course, been an integral part of the planning of our cities, towns and villages for many years, and the emphasis on good quality open spaces in our new communities has been a focus for planning authorities in consenting new developments for some time. 

In the past, these spaces were frequently adopted by local authorities, town and parish councils, taken into public ownership and the upkeep funded from the public purse.  Whilst that still happens, more often than not local authorities are now moving away from seeking adoption and instead are looking for community-led solutions for the long-term stewardship of these open spaces.

Whilst residents’ owned management organisations, community trusts and, more recently, community interest companies, are often chosen to be the owner and guardian of green spaces and shared facilities in new developments, they may not always be the best solution. What is important is to choose the stewardship model that is most suitable to the public realm and green spaces concerned, that secures a sustainable maintenance regime with a long-term income stream to cover the expenses.

There are considerable responsibilities to be mindful of in taking on extensive open spaces, particularly if they serve the dual or multi-function of recreation land, sustainable urban drainage schemes, wildlife areas or just general amenity land.  Securing the funding, managing and maintaining the physical features and ensuring a high quality long-term maintenance regime will not always be best vested in the residents themselves, although it is fundamentally important that those who benefit from the open spaces have a say in how they are looked after.

Increasingly, we are seeing local planning authorities taking a more interventionist approach in s106 agreements, imposing planning obligations that require the long-term management organisation to be approved by the council, and to establish an in-perpetuity income stream and managed endowment as well as full community engagement.

The Land Trust was established a number of years ago to provide a sustainable long term management solution for newly created public open space around developments and restored brownfield land.  Christine de Ferrars Green recently met (virtually, of course) with Euan Hall, the Trust’s Chief Executive to talk about the Trust’s activities.

First, can you tell me about what the Land Trust does and its charitable objectives?

"The Land Trust is a national land management charity with responsibility for maintaining over 80 parks and green spaces across England.

We have five key charitable objectives that shape everything we do. These are: health and wellbeing; environment and biodiversity; community and social cohesion; education and learning; and economic prosperity.

We are committed to the long-term sustainable management of open space for community benefit and our vision is to improve the quality of people’s lives by creating high quality, sustainable green spaces that deliver environmental, social and economic benefits.

Delivering economic and social value is an increasingly important part of what we do and in 2019-20 our social value model,  showed that our management of our green spaces created over £20 million of economic and social value for the communities who live and work around our sites."

So, what sort of green spaces does the Trust manage?

"The Trust manages a wide variety of green spaces from public parks and nature reserves to green space within residential property developments. They all present different challenges and opportunities, and our team of Estates managers and officers work closely with our managing partners and volunteer workforce to deliver a range of activities and opportunities for our communities, while also ensuring that the biodiversity and wildlife that call our sites home are also able to thrive."

How do you work with local authorities and public sector organisations? 

"The Trust was initially launched by English Partnerships (now Homes England) in 2004 to provide secure sustainable long term management of public open space across England. Since becoming an independent charity in 2010 we have continued to work closely with Homes England taking ownership of surplus public open space funded by endowments relieving the tax payer of long term financial burden and ensuring that the green infrastructure is maintained for public benefit.

At Halsnead garden village we are working closely with Knowsley Borough council to ensure that their vision for the village is delivered through the provision and sustainable management of green and blue infrastructure. We are working with each residential developer to ensure that the green/blue infrastructure is managed as ‘one’ as it transfers to our control as each phase completes.

We have also worked with Teignbridge District Council to design two new SANGs – suitable alternative natural green space - to support new residential development in the district. These sites will transfer to the Trust with endowments to secure the future management. Teignbridge Council’s green space team will most likely be appointed by the Land Trust to manage these."

What’s been happening in the past year? 

"The past year has probably been one of the most important in the Trust’s history. Although many of our activities have understandably been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic our sites have played an incredibly important role in protecting the mental and physical wellbeing of the communities who live and work around our sites.

Unlike many organisations, we went to great effort to keep as many of our sites open as possible for our communities to use throughout the periods of lockdown and restrictions to our lives. We know that this has been hugely appreciated by the users of our sites.

We conducted a survey in the early months of 2021 to understand how people have used our sites during the preceding 12 months and the positive impact it has had on them. Over 300 people responded to the survey, with 90% of participants saying that use of our green spaces had a positive effect on their physical and mental health throughout the pandemic, while there was also a 20% rise in the number of people using our green spaces every single day."

And finally, what opportunities do you see in the future?

"I think the Covid-19 pandemic has really reinforced the important role that well managed green spaces can play within communities and wider society.

Working with others, we need to ensure that Government recognises and reinforces this through guidance such as the Model Design guide – currently out for consultation and the NPPF. 

We were involved with the Building Better Building Beautiful commission as part of the stewardship group.  Unfortunately, the work of that group hasn’t yet percolated through to the draft Model Design guide.

We have developed a niche in the SANG’s market around the Thames Basin Heath special protection area and can only see this role growing as pressure continues to provide more houses in the area.

We are also active in the nascent biodiversity net gain market, looking at how we can use our existing sites and new sites to help developers and local authorities ensure net gain.

Importantly, our endowment investment model gives substantial assurance around the long term protection of both SANGs and BNG payments. That isn’t something that every organisation can offer. If we want to make a change we must think long term – which we do in calculating endowments.

We also recognise that the ESG agenda (that is environmental, social and governance) is rapidly growing in importance with investors and that well-managed green and blue infrastructure within developments can contribute to improving the ESG bottom line."

Mills & Reeve are very grateful to Euan Hall for his time in conversation with Christine de Ferrars Green and are pleased to be supporting the Trust in its work.

A version of this article was published in the Spring Edition of ACES Terrier in April 2021.

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