The Scrutiny Support Officer submitted a covering report to provide Panel Members with background information in relation to the new scrutiny topic of the Boro Becks project.
The Environment Scrutiny Panel approved its work programme at its meeting on 17 June 2013, including the examination of the Boro Becks project.
L Small, A Gladwin and C Corbett, from the Councils Neighbourhood and Communities department/ Boro Becks Team, had been invited to the meeting to present an overview of the subject, including:-
Background to the Boro Becks Programme.
The current/future funding position.
Work undertaken to date by the Boro Becks Team.
Background information in relation to the Programme was attached to the submitted report.
L Small, Landscape Development Manager, provided background information in relation to Middlesbroughs becks which had been identified in strategic documents as important open spaces.
Following legislative changes in 2006, the Environment Agency had assumed responsibility for four of Middlesbroughs becks, namely Newham Beck, Marton West Beck, Ormesby Beck and Middle Beck, as they were deemed Critical Ordinary Watercourses that contributed to flooding on the River Tees.
Subsequently, the Boro Becks project was launched by the Environment Agency, Middlesbrough Council, and the Tees Valley Wildlife Trust, covering the four becks. Funding for the three-year project was awarded by the Big Lottery Fund as part of the Access to Nature grants programme administered by Natural England and was specifically targeted towards deprived areas. The project, therefore, could not be rolled out on a Middlesbrough-wide basis.
The project aimed to actively engage with the local community to encourage a positive contribution to the management of the becks so that they could be enjoyed as valuable green spaces and wildlife hotspots.
The Environment Agency had commissioned perception surveys involving residents living near to the becks, asking how they would like the becks to be improved. The three main themes highlighted as important to the community were: community access, projects and countryside management and biodiversity. A Middlesbrough Becks Steering Group was then formed comprising of key stakeholders and community representatives, and was designed to support the improvement of Middlesbroughs becks network. The Group continued to meet on a quarterly basis and supported:-
Working in partnership to ensure projects materialised.
Supporting community engagement and participation.
Co-ordination of existing strategies.
Ensuring communication between partners and the sharing of information.
Promoting use and awareness of the becks.
All of the data collected from the perception surveys and two Countryside Summits supported that people wanted to be physically involved in improving the becks in their areas and the funding provided for the project was aimed at involving residents on each side of the becks as volunteer rangers.
A Gladwin, Countryside Manager, was also in attendance at the meeting and provided information in relation to the current and future funding position and service operation.
Members were advised that the project funding would end in December 2013. A breakdown of the capital, revenue and projects budget was circulated to those present. A total of £90,000 capital funding was invested in the Boro Becks project, with £60,000 coming from Partnership funding and £30,000 from Access to Nature via Natural England. The list of projects provided details of how that money was allocated. The projects included:-
Berwick Hills/Ormesby Beck - Pond creation, tree planting, habitat creation and entrance feature.
Marton West Beck - Bridge improvements, meadow management, wildflower and bulb planting and footpath improvements.
Ormesby Beck Realignment - Landscaping associated with the new scheme (flood relief).
Spencer Beck - Entrance features, footpaths and trees.
Bridge and Barrier Improvements - installation with repainting.
Habitat Creation and landscaping - meadow management, tree planting and creation of footpaths.
The Boro Becks Team, based at Stewart Park, consisted of three members of staff (Community Outreach Officer, Becks Ranger and Project Co-ordinator) employed by the Wildlife Trust. It was highlighted that match funding, by way of contributions in kind, was currently provided by the Council in the form of staff support. Further details in relation to the revenue budget could be made available to Members should they so wish.
Involving the local community was vital to build on the work of the Boro Becks project in the future and it was hoped that various Friends groups could be established. The Friends of Hemlington Lake had offered to mentor other friends groups and several had now been established. These groups, and volunteers, required support, therefore Boro Becks worked with Area Care to help the volunteer network. It was suggested that the friends groups might meet to discuss similar training needs they might have and share information in relation to support networks. The importance of volunteers and groups maintaining work that they had done was also discussed.
Councillor Walker highlighted that the mutual support given to Middlesbrough 'Friends' Groups from the Greenspaces Community Forum was very valuable. These meetings were organised by the Council's Parks management and had been held since April 2009 as an outcome of the Middlesbrough Countryside summits to support constituted Friends groups in their voluntary work.
As previously stated, the Boro Becks project funding would end in December 2013, therefore, future funding support was now being sought from sources such as grants, and several key partners would be approached. It was noted that certain criteria would need to be met in order to acquire grant funding.
C Corbett, Community Outreach Officer with the Boro Becks Team, was in attendance at the meeting and provided those present with examples of the Teams information leaflets and newsletters.
The Panel was advised that a total of 27 volunteers were currently registered with Boro Becks and had been recruited through Middlesbrough Council procedures. As well as being actively involved in wildlife management, vegetation control and accessible footpaths schemes, the volunteers had taken part in a range of training including first aid, strimming, pond creation and plant identification. Volunteers met on a regular basis, with guidance from the Becks Ranger, and were encouraged to work independently. A great deal of work had been undertaken with local schools, nine primary schools and one secondary school, to encourage them to use the becks and green spaces as outdoor classrooms. The Team had also worked with a range of groups including Police cadets, Army Cadets, Groundwork, brownie and guide groups and other youth groups.
Various community events had been held to deliver activities to encourage community participation. Small packs - mini-rucksacks containing basic equipment and laminated spotter sheets - had been developed to be issued from Sure Start childrens centres for use by groups. Childrens themed packs consisting of a butterfly, bee, spider and ladybird back-packs had also been developed for use by families with younger children. They were available for loan from libraries and contained basic equipment and themed activity booklets.
Further information was provided in relation to the various activities and events that had been led by the Boro Becks Team and how they had been promoted, ie by way of information leaflets and social media.
During the course of discussion, the following issues were raised:-
Reference was made to the funding for the Boro Becks project coming to an end in December and it was queried whether the educational aspects of the work would continue in the future. The Panel was advised that, should further funding not be secured, the educational work would be unable to continue and this would leave a massive gap.
It was highlighted that perhaps schools could be approached with a view to having some input into the maintenance of green spaces around their school. The schools that the project had worked with were currently in the process of completing final evaluations of the project in terms of whether there was a need for the project to continue and the benefits it had provided in terms of learning, improvements in behaviour and attainment, etc, and whether the school would be prepared to provide some level of funding in the future.
In response to a query regarding funding from the Environment Agency, it was confirmed that a one-off funding amount had been provided by the Environment Agency (due to an under-spend on their part) specifically for flood prevention works.
It was highlighted that Middlesbrough provided important habitats for the water vole, Dingy Skipper and Speckled Wood butterflies, Great Crested newt and bats.
The Panel appreciated the work that had been undertaken by the Boro Becks project, particularly in relation to education, beck maintenance and flood prevention. It recognised that the Council was under financial pressure and may not be able to continue the current level of financial support it provided to the project. However, it was suggested that the Panels draft final report on this topic would reflect a desire to continue support in a reduced capacity.
The Chair thanked the officers for attending and for the information provided.
AGREED as follows:-
1. That the information provided be noted.
2. That the Draft Final Report in relation to the Boro Becks project be submitted to the next meeting of the Environment Scrutiny Panel for consideration.