At long last summer has arrived, or so it seemed at the weekend. Record-breaking temperatures brought people out in their droves to enjoy the seaside, our visitor attractions and our public parks and green spaces. Speaking of which, I, like everyone else, was appalled at the mindless vandalism and fire last week in the Burn Valley Gardens. It really is annoying to see play equipment and the environment needlessly damaged, especially given the scant resources the Council has to maintain such areas – which they still do, unlike some Local Authorities.
Britain’s parks and green spaces save the NHS over £111 million each year through ‘prevented GP visits’ according to a report by the Fields in Trust Charity. They argue that regular users of these places are likely to be healthier and less likely to visit their doctor, and that access to parks and green spaces can help us feel physically and mentally well, reduce social isolation and instil pride in our local communities. While the benefits of fresh air and exercise on a person’s health and wellbeing are blatantly obvious and nothing new – remember public parks were in part established for that very reason – the charity’s comments come in the face of threats to the future of these public assets. In Newcastle, for example, there is consideration of handing park management and maintenance to a Trust, and in Knowsley there have been moves to hand over some spaces for development purposes. There is no doubt that in these times of austerity local authorities are under pressure to abrogate responsibility for the upkeep of municipal parks. They remain some of the best public assets our communities have, and to think they could disappear is unimaginable and really would be detrimental to the health of the nation.
Parks are free entry, of course, and so will be the Great Exhibition of the North based in Newcastle/ Gateshead, according to Sarah Stewart, its Chief Executive. She came along to make a presentation to the Northern Group of MPs this week, and while she outlined what is stated to be the biggest public event organised in the UK this year costing around £13 million, there was some constructive scepticism around its relevance outside of Tyneside. There is no doubt that the exhibition, which starts on 22nd June and ends on 9th September is ambitious and exciting, but whether it achieves its goal of truly celebrating the history and culture of the whole of the North remains to be seen. From my point of view Hartlepool folk will need some persuading as to its relevance to them and, as I said to Sarah, the organisers certainly need to talk to Northern Rail about transport access for the 90-day duration including more carriages, more frequent trains, later departures and arrivals and family-friendly fare packages to enable our people to access the event.
Finally, I am pleased that the Council has listened to my plea to take action on ending charges for foetal cremations and still-born children. It is morally wrong to do so, as is the policy of charging for children up to the age of 16. I hope they act swiftly and do the right thing, which I’m sure they will, because losing a child in such circumstances is unbelievably traumatic, and where possible it is right that parents can give their loved ones an appropriate service and cremation.