Last week the UK government announced its plans to consider new options to ‘improve’ the Landfill Communities Fund, claiming many environmental bodies had accumulated large amounts of unspent money that was “not reaching communities as quickly as it should”, writes Euan Hall.
As the Chief Executive of The Land Trust – a national charity which has benefited from several Landfill Communities Fund grants to transform a range of green spaces for local communities – it was an announcement which I received with both interest and concern.
In the announcement, which can be read here, it stated that the government had challenged environmental bodies to reduce the amount of unspent funds but that targets had not been met overall.
This focus on “unspent funds” is worrying. It fails to recognise that rather than simply stowing funding away, a significant amount of this has already been pledged to projects that are underway but not yet completed. In order to provide effective and sustainable land management and not just ‘flash in the pan’ investment which burns out very quickly, there has to be a long term strategy in place.
In order to manage our green spaces properly and provide the most benefits for communities, we need to consider the medium to long term requirements, not simply a short term fix. An organisation like The Land Trust is in it for the long haul and we want the spaces we develop to benefit generation upon generation. This is why the pressures being placed on environmental bodies to spend money quickly are of concern and could have such an adverse effect on the long term management of green spaces.
First and foremost, the Landfill Communities Fund has been vital to the delivery of both our community and environmental projects across the country.
Grants from funders including Biffa Award, SITA Trust and The Veolia Environmental Trust have allowed us to create and improve green spaces in some of the country’s most disadvantaged areas. These have included major habitat works at one of the most important sites in the UK for invertebrates; and improvements at an ex-coal mine turned Country Park, now used for both education and leisure.
Our longer term strategic approach was evidenced in the recent unveiling of Merseyside’s Port Sunlight River Park to the public. This is a new public open space which has benefited from a Landfill Communities Fund grant from Biffa Award which helped us turn a derelict landfill site closed off to the public for many, many years into an oasis of wildlife, greenery and footpaths.
We are proud to have put mechanisms in place that will ensure the site can be managed and maintained over the long term. As a result of prudent financial planning, long term funding is in place for the benefit of generations to come. We wholeheartedly stand behind this approach as the right way to do business with the community’s interests at heart.
So, returning to the government’s recent announcement and I note that it has said it will now consider different options in consultation with landfill site operators, environmental bodies and their regulatory body, ENTRUST to improve the flow of funding to communities.
I will be awaiting with great interest the outcome of these discussions, the ramifications of which could be significant – not just to ourselves but also for the Land Trust communities up and down the country who will bear the brunt of a shift to shorter term funding.
All that I, and we at The Land Trust, can ask is that the government carefully considers any supposed ‘improvement’ to the Landfill Communities Fund. Such impatience could have devastating long term consequences.
Euan Hall is Chief Executive of The Land Trust