September 2015 Breakfast Briefing

Venue: Bletchley Park
Date: 10 Sep 2015

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Looking after city’s’ green space is a growing business

Money really does grow on trees in Milton Keynes, the chief executive of the city’s Parks Trust David Foster has told city Business Leaders.

David, who heads the charity tasked with looking after 5,000 acres of green space in the city, revealed his latest potential revenue generating scheme - growing Christmas mistletoe on an ‘industrial scale’ on some of the Trust’s millions of trees.

The Parks Trust already harvests willow for cricket bats and produces traditional cider and apple juice. It also tends herds of sheep and cows within what is an urban environment.

But, in a speech entitled Our Vision for the Future, he told MK Business Leaders Partnership members and guests at Bletchley Park, the Trust’s property portfolio still generates the bulk of its income, with assets across Milton Keynes and around the country including several Premier Inns and a Travelodge.

He quoted the Trust’s mission statement: ‘We care for beautiful and inspirational parks, lakes and landscapes that will be loved by the people of Milton Keynes, forever’, and he said: “We never lose sight of the fact that we do the commercial thing for one purpose and that is to maintain our parks and green spaces to the highest possible standard, at no cost to the taxpayer. We don’t get money from the government or the council, we are completely self-financing.”

He said charity laws were strict on what the Trust could or couldn’t do. “We have a social conscience and pride ourselves on having a long term view – even 500 years ahead.” Some big projects are being looked at, including a 100-boat canal marina and homes adjoining Campbell Park and a multi-million pound re-development of Willen Lake.

A visitor and education centre opened at Howe Park Wood this year and there are plans to increase the number of cafes in parks across the city. Another major project is to restore the former grounds of Great Linford Manor. The Trust owns the land right up to the Manor and is bidding for £3 million Heritage Lottery Funding to restore ponds and cascades. “The landscape architect was a contemporary of Capability Brown and it is really special, there is nothing like it in MK,” he said.

While the land being allocated for new parks is not as generous as in the past, room could be found for play areas, open space, sport, water management, and for wildlife. At Old Wolverton gravel extraction has created a wetland of national significance for wading birds.

“But diversity is not just about wildlife. The typical park visitor has changed significantly and we now provide for a very diverse community. Engagement with the community is key to what we do. We have 100 volunteers and have just recruited another 100 to help with the Rugby World Cup 2015,” he said.

Milton Keynes is a host city with pool games being held at StadiumMK and the Trust is staging a Fanzone in Campbell Park where up to 30,000 people could attend. “We are really proud to be doing this, it is a really good thing for Milton Keynes with lots of business opportunities,” David said.

Afterwards, Dr Philip Smith, chair of MK Business Leaders said the work of the Parks Trust with its green spaces every few yards, could be seen each day as people travel across the city. “But today David has given us a fascinating and different view of its work, and how a business approach is ensuring its vision into the future.”