Woodland burial plots could be sold in parks.
ASCHEME to bring burial plots to city parks could come to life after proposals to hand control of parks to a charitable trust were given the go-ahead. Newcastle City Council is to become the first major metropolitan authority in the UK to hand over its parks and allotment sites to an independent charitable trust.
The council's cabinet backed proposals to create the Newcastle Parks Charitable Trust, which will take control of 32 parks and more than 60 allotment sites in the city.
It comes as park budgets have been slashed by 91% over the last seven years, from PS2.58m in 2010/11 to less than PS1m this year, meaning the council can no longer afford to keep the city's green spaces going.
The trust will be able to raise its own cash to protect the parks and secure pots of money which are not available to a directly council-run organisation.
And as part of the plans, burial plots could be sold off in the parks as a way to bring in extra cash for the trust.
The council said the demand for woodland burials, where a body is buried without a headstone in order to preserve the natural beauty of the surroundings, is growing. This is despite concerns from John Urquhart, a member of Newcastle Parks Forum, who questioned whether it was suitable for people to be buried at the sites.
Other ways the trust could raise cash could include "pay to play" attractions like mini-golf, corporate sponsorship and health hubs in the parks.
An initial PS9.5m will be required to set up the trust, but council officers insist it should become self-sustaining after 10 years, saving up to PS110m.
Coun Kim McGuinness, cabinet member for culture and communities, said: "This is the first time that a charitable trust has been set up to manage parks and allotments on such a large scale and I am delighted. Swingeing Government cuts of more than 90% to our parks budgets left us with no option but to look at alternative ways of running our open spaces that are vital to keeping this city a safe, clean and green environment where people can relax and enjoy their leisure time.
"We have worked for many months with the National Trust, Social Finance and Heritage Lottery Fund to bring this plan to life and we are proud of what we have achieved so far.
"Let me assure people that all money raised in the parks will be spent in the parks and their future remains in public ownership for everyone to enjoy.
"This new and innovative approach will open up our parks and bring back the days when parks were venues for social and community events.
"Now we must get on and lay the foundations for a 10-year plan that will nurture and develop the charitable trust that will guide our parks and allotments for future generations."
The council's deputy leader Joyce McCarty agreed and said it was great that the council had come up with an innovative way to protect the parks.
"The National Trust is really supportive of what we are trying to do and I think this recognises the importance of the heritage we've got in the parks," she said.
However, Coun Wendy Taylor expressed concerns over the plans and said that the council had the capacity to do everything that the trust would take on.
"I can't see why the council can't do it if it had better event management. I remain very opposed to this organisation."
Coun McGuinness hit back and said that it was not sustainable for the council to keep running the parks due to Government cuts.
She said: "All the money made in the parks will remain in the parks. The trust will lease the land from us and we will still own it. We did look at other options but all roads led us to this point."
The councillors voted to approve the plans and the hunt for a chairperson and a board of trustees is expected to begin in January.
The council report said that the new trust could take control of the parks by the end of next year.
Harry Bowell, director of the North for the National Trust said: "The National Trust is very supportive of Newcastle City Council's decision to set up a new independent charity to care for their parks. "We believe that setting up a parks trust is a great way to secure the public social and health benefits that parks offer for the long term. We will work with the new charity to help it get off to the best possible start and share learning with other local authorities interested in finding sustainable ways to secure the future of their parks and green spaces."
Leazes Park is among those likely to be controlled by the new charitable trust in Newcastle