Use Places & People to search over 6,600 parks and gardens in the UK and 2,100 biographies of people associated with them. Image location: Bedgebury National Pinetum

Learn about the rich heritage of parks and gardens in Topics.
Image location: Powis Castle

Follow News & Events, updated regularly with the latest information affecting historic parks and gardens. Image location: Sheffield Botanical Gardens

Visit the Schools for ideas and activities to encourage the interest of children and young people in their local parks. Image location: Trentham

Join us as a volunteer and Research & Record historic parks and gardens in your area.
Image location: Cirencester Abbey

View the Illustrated Glossary which provides definitions and accompanying images for terms and concepts associated with historic parks and gardens. Image location: Pannett Park

Alan Barber: champion of the people's parks

Article Index

  1. Alan Barber: champion of the people's parks
  2. The decline of public parks
  3. The "transition guy"
  4. Campaigning, consultancy and research
  5. "Great parks make great cities"
  6. Sources and further reading
  7. All Pages


The "transition guy"

He sees himself as a ‘transition guy', grounded in the old tradition and yet able to hold his own in the brave new world of local authorities post-1974. While at Lancashire, he had been introduced to the technique of Work Study, imported to the public sector from industry, which taught him about management by objectives.

The introduction of Compulsory Competitive Tendering (CCT) in 1988, which aimed to force down costs by making the council's own workforce compete for work with external contractors, was another threat to the quality of parks. The focus on routine maintenance undermined the long-term vision needed to keep parks in peak condition.

At this point, Alan discovered Quality Assurance, another technique which, like Work Study, had been developed in industry and made its way into the public sector. He organised a quality management system for Bristol parks that helped with the introduction of CCT.

Putting the emphasis on parks as places for people, Alan also forged links with the Civic Society and Avon Wildlife Trust, encouraged Friends groups and greatly increased the number of events taking place in the city's parks. Under him, the council was the first in the country to appoint a community initiatives officer to encourage volunteer involvement.

Photograph of the woodland on the Blaise Castle estate, Bristol. Photograph by Alan Barber.Woodland on the Blaise Castle Estate, Bristol Despite these achievements, the battle for adequate funding for parks was never-ending. The crunch for Alan came over a programme for the management of Bristol's 300 hectares of ageing urban woodland, which included the woodland gorge of the Blaise Castle Estate. A detailed 20-year plan, developed by a number of experts over the previous five years, was put to a meeting of the council.

Unfortunately, the council was being forced to make cuts, and axing the entire woodland initiative allowed them to shave £150,000 off the budget at a stroke with the loss of just five jobs.

‘To find that all that could be scuppered in a night was heart-breaking,' says Alan grimly. ‘The debate raged for hours, but I was powerless. I got home at 10pm and I was still crying at 2am.'

Nonetheless, Alan doesn't blame local politicians for their savagery: ‘Their backs were against the wall and they had to cut budgets,' he says simply. ‘At the end of the day it's the system that's wrong. Whitehall controls what local authorities do: they don't have a proper taxation base. Parks are very vulnerable because they're not a statutory service. When councils are under pressure, they claw back money from things like leisure and recreation.'