An unexpected lifeline has been thrown to Lancashire’s premier picnic and countryside sites - after Lancashire County Council failed to attract appropriate bids to enable them to be run independently.
It means that Beacon Fell and Wycoller Country Parks, Spring Wood Picnic Site at Whalley and 12 other key sites will continue to be maintained by the county council.
But services will be scaled down and ranger jobs cut.
Meanwhile the council is proposing accepting bids from charities and other councils for 13 of the county’s 84 countryside sites.
It is proposed 25 woodland sites, mostly owned by district councils will be handed back to those councils. The county council will seek to sell or raise income through forestry work from a further 14 woodland sites.
The proposals for the scaled down countryside service, which would see the council operating a reduced service from April 2018 at a cost of just £197,000 a year, are detailed in a report due to be considered by the council’s Executive Scrutiny Committee next Tuesday, with a final decision due on Wednesday.
Coun Marcus Johnstone, Cabinet member for environment, planning and cultural services, said:“For the last year we have been exploring how our countryside sites could be maintained in future, ideally at no ongoing cost to the county council. Our 84 sites are very diverse and range from former industrial sites which are now small nature reserves, to big country parks, and it was always going to be difficult to find other parties willing to take all of them on.”
He continued: “I’m sure these proposals will be welcomed by those who were concerned about the future of the sites, as they mean that people would be able to continue to enjoy them, however they would not solve our financial problem and we would continue to work to raise income, reduce costs, and look for other parties to help run them.”
The council had initially hoped to identify suitable organisations to transfer all of its countryside sites portfolio to. The report to councillors explains the council has now been forced to look at other alternatives for managing sites it cannot transfer.
Currently the council is using cash from reserves to meet the £304,000 p.a. running costs of the service. In 2015/16, prior to recent cutbacks, the budget for running the service was £497,000.
Coun Johnstone added: “We are also proposing to look after a number of former railway lines which pass through some of our sites and are now popular walking and cycling routes. We plan for these to be maintained by the county council’s highway service as we recognise their importance to the county’s wider travel network. Keeping many of the sites means we could continue to provide facilities such as bins and toilets, and manage volunteers to help with other maintenance and inspections.”