Let’s begin with a statement of the blindingly obvious: there’s a lot more green space in our towns and cities than you’d expect.
Municipal open spaces, roadway verges and of course back gardens, mean that the term ‘concrete jungle’ is rarely accurate.
This is particularly true in London where we have nine glorious Royal Parks for which, to my delight, I have responsibility within Government. For the time being, at any rate; we aim to transfer their management to the Mayor’s office when an opportunity arises, so people who live and work near them can have a rather more direct say in decisions which concern them.
In the meantime, though, they sit with us here in central government, quietly providing a really top-class facility for Londoners and visitors to the capital alike, and all under the watchful eye of individual park managers, expert grounds men and women and a chief executive who is also one of my most senior civil servants.
This, I believe, is how government should be: sensible, qualified people getting on with the job, with the occasional ministerial nudge on the tiller if and when a new direction is called for.
This week saw a nudge – more of a pull back, to be honest – as I cancelled a decision taken last year that would have seen car parking charges introduced in Richmond and Bushy Parks. These are massive deer parks on the western fringes of the city, by the way.
Not particularly on the normal tourist trail, and too big to be tackled on foot for most people, they have been a free facility for hundreds of thousands of local people, which would have been diminished by slapping parking charges on to – effectively – every visitor.
So my approach was to grasp the spirit of decentralisation by getting local MPs and stakeholders round a table and trusting them to be sufficiently wise, well-informed and locally tuned-in to come up with a plan B. Which is just what happened; car parking charges have been given the boot, and the way is paved for things like farmers’ markets, limited retail openings and – hold the front page – a chance for users to make a voluntary contribution, if they wish.
Let’s see how we get on. Personally, I’m rather optimistic that this ‘local solution’ to a ‘local issue’ is going to be a success.
Oh we do like to be beside the seaside, but we also rather like our ‘hip’ cities too (apparently)
Just time, I hope, to get in a quick plug for a report from Visit Britain which shows that our big, industrial cities are becoming highly fashionable tourist destinations.
Everyone knows that London and Edinburgh are magnets for visitors, but the evidence now shows that Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow are popular with visitors too. The Visit Britain folks rightly see the key role that culture plays in these cities’ attractiveness and the press notice is bristling with words like hip, cool and stylish, although citing The Beatles as the reason why Liverpool pulsates doesn’t seem to quite fit.
The Beatles, after all, were first getting together nearly 50 years ago – a heck of a lot of water’s gone down the Mersey since then. I think that Liverpool’s brilliant hosting of the European Capital of Culture in 2008 has earned them a cultural identity of their own that goes a little bit beyond ‘home of The Fab Four’.
Finally, however, the report throws up a couple of mysteries. Apparently Americans are top visitor nationality in Bath, while the Irish lead in Newcastle, and the French favour Cardiff and Swansea.
So what is it about these places that presses a button with people from these particular nations, I wonder?
Answers on a picture postcard please…