Calls for clarity over the future of Wrexham’s country parks have been made amid concerns of the impact proposed budget cuts could have.
As part of Wrexham Council’s recent Difficult Decisions consultation it has been proposed that the number of park rangers working in the borough’s 11 country parks, is reduced.
Instead Wrexham Council say that the service will be “realigned to focus on the safe management of the key park sites (Alyn Waters and Tŷ Mawr country parks)” along with a further review of the seasonal park facilities.
As a result the council’s Streetscene Service will assist the rangers in the cleaning and upkeep of the parks. However sacilities and staff that are grant supported will continue to be maintained according to the grant criteria.
The changes to the service would also result in some of the events currently held in the country parks, being stopped.
It is thought these changes and the creation of a new service model for the parks will help make savings of around £100,000 in 2018/19 for Wrexham Council.
However during this week’s Executive Board there were calls for reassurance from councillors, who raised concerns that the proposals could have negative and long-term affects on Wrexham’s country parks.
Cllr Derek Wright, who represents the Cefn ward, raised concerns about whether the service changes would “adversely affect” the future of the animals at Tŷ Mawr Country Park and what impact it would have on junior rangers.
He said: “I feel it is no coincidence that the proposed cuts to the park ranger service was that the Cefn ward had the highest number of contributors to the Difficult Decisions consultation.
“I am very disappointed that this is the only item of the top four opposition to the Difficult Decisions consultation that hasn’t received any additional funds to alleviate the effect on the service.
“What message does this send out for future consultations, particularly to the people of Cefn.”
Cllr Wright added: “I feel that if this review goes ahead, it must be a proper review and include consultation with staff, volunteers and visitors to the parks. I feel it should include larger community councils which border these parks – would these councils be willing and able to contribute to the ranger service going forward?
“We must carry out a full review and not just a paper exercise.”
However Cllr Bithell stated that the animals that are currently based at Tŷ Mawr “will not be adversely affected” and offered assurances that there will continue to be animals based at the park.
Cllr Geoff Lowe, who represents the Acton ward, spoke of his concerns about the long-term effect reducing the number of park rangers could have on the high standards and quality of country parks across the borough.
Cllr Lowe said: “These are difficult times as the leader of the council has already said. I too have been around local politics for a number of years and I never envisioned the drastic cuts we are having to face.
“My own limited knowledge is this – I see no light at the end of the tunnel, this is something that is going to continue for many years. The difficult decisions don’t end here this year, next year or the year after.
“My concern is about the long-term investment in our in our country parks. I believe if we find ourselves in a position where we are going to lose rangers, this may well affect the good work of volunteers who work in our country parks, they need that support
“My concern continues, if we lose the volunteers and parks fall into state of disrepair, we could end up losing our country parks
“If we continued do pursue this new model, it may effect they long-term life of our parks. They also contribute a valuable thing to the county borough, which is tourism. A number of people come to our country parks and highlight their importance, I think it is great value to us.
“To lose them is a step too far.”
Cllr Lowe also made reference previous attempts to sell off parts of the parks which had been rejected by the public and councillors, noting that they are “valuable building materials for any council”.
Cllr Bithell clarified that there is “no intention” to sell off the country parks and that the idea of a new model is to help make sure the parks are sustainable.
He added: “For the record and its worth noting the whole idea of a new model is to make sure the country parks are sustainable for the future and to make sure we do protect our parks.
“There is certainly no intention to sell them off. We do value parks, yes there may be some reduction in some activities events and programme but it is certainly not the intention of this administration to devalue the parks at all.
“We do have to make them sustainable and live within cash limited budget and do make sure we support.
Cllr Bithell concluded: “I can honestly assure you I certainly won’t support selling off country parks. Like you and the rest of the Executive board we all value the service but we have to live within our means.”
Council Leader Mark Pritchard said: “With the parks there was some misinformation put out there that we were going to remove the animals and do terrible things to them.
“We have looked at parks as a whole and are reviewing the service. There is a lot of misinformation, we are not closing the parks.
“They are still there for everyone to use – it is fantastic what we have and long may it continue.”
A final decision on whether the proposed reduction of park rangers and other budget proposals should go ahead will be made by all 52 councillors during February’s Full Council meeting.
You can view our coverage from this week’s budget debate – here. Our article about the proposed introduction of parking charges for Blue Badge holders and visitors to three country parks can also be found – here.