Memorandum by the Friends of Dunorlan
Park, Tunbridge Wells (TCP 20)
1. This memorandum, in response to Press Notice
19/1998-99 dated 3 March 1999, is made in the name of the 270-strong
Friends of Dunorlan Park in Tunbridge Wells by resolution in General
Meeting on 24 March 1999. After seven years continuing struggle
to restore one neglected park in Tunbridge Wells we conclude,
arguing from the specific to the general, that this study is timely
and vital if both functionality and civic pride are to be restored
to publicly-owned town and country parks since neither local authorities
nor Lottery Fund show the capability of succeeding nation-wide.
2. The social, economic and environmental
benefits of this and other local public parks are abundantly
clear, from the widespread support this body of Friends receives,
even in the well-favoured country town of Tunbridge Wells. The
proximity of much land of Outstanding Natural Beauty seems to
increase public appetite to experience it at close quarters, as
this park allows: some of the range of users are listed at paragraph
24. Economically this park attracts tourism and therapeutically
it must aid the NHS: environmentally it educates as well as continuing
to provide lungs for the built-up areas, a place to breathe with
all the senses.
3. The condition of the public parks
is much run-down, in Tunbridge Wells as elsewhere, and it was
fear for the very survival of the disappearing glories of Dunorlan
Park that sparked the formation, with Council encouragement, of
this properly-constituted charity number 1063715/0 whose objects
are "the restoration and preservation for public benefit
of an open space known as Dunorlan Park, Tunbridge Wells, in the
county of Kent". Deficiencies to the tune of £2 million
to rectify, and still incompletely, are detailed in two independent
assessments supporting bids for an HLF grant.
4. The roles and responsibilities of
Government Departments are much to blame. The ill-judged
introduction of compulsory competitive tendering and the closure
of direct labour organisations that could not show a profit, underlie
the general decline of public parks and the rot has been continued
by local authorities, whose annual funding has, in real
terms, declined drastically since 1945. In our case at least,
the trend continues as an inevitable consequence of the established
system of financing and control of policy. Parks are one of the
few discretionary subjects of expenditure and tend to come last
in the pecking order. At a time when parks department staffing
is effectively two down on what it was three years ago and notwithstanding
the concurrent submission of a bid for Lottery money to restore
the park, the revenue budget for the coming year has just been
reduced by more than £20,000 or the gross cost of one much-needed
5. The inadequacy of annual funding of
public parks such as ours is the nub of the continuing problem
of decline and, following an official tip-off, we have for several
months been openly searching for the alternatives, such as Trusts
and the Parliament-voted system applying to London parks. This
is proving difficult.
6. The National Lottery distributions
have done much to raise popular awareness of the widespread need
for re-funding and better management of parks but the original
Urban Parks Programme announced in February 1996 appears to have
been exhausted before we, and numberless other parks, could claim
a share. Unfortunately the runaway success of the programme has
led to rationing of grants and significant revision of the rules
whereby communities could contribute to partnership funding. As
expanded later, at paragraph 23, those rules now seem very discouraging
of community involvement and urgently deserve review.
7. Sustainability of parks is essential
and requires much more than money, though a fair bit of that will
be needed too. A healthy park must have continuing caring patronage:
generous but impersonal funding, divorced from day to day care,
has too often been wasted in high-profile but short-lived greening
ventures elsewhere. The patrons may be individuals or organisations
but will often be Leagues of Friends or otherwise involve the
local community who can be expected to keep a day to day eye on
the state of a park and trigger remedies before any problems escalate.
8. User support groups such as ours should
have a valuable continuing role which could be much enhanced by
a nation-wide umbrella organisation for mutual self-help
including insurance, exchange of information, guidance for incipient
groups including a "formation pack" such as the Charity
Commissioners offer for new charities, development of standards
(for problems such as dog-fouling or dealing with unwanted wild-life)
and, potentially, very much more. A nucleus body, albeit with
somewhat different objectives, may already exist.
9. The restoration of iron railings and
magnificent park entrances, removed during the last war for the
supposed manufacture of munitions, is mentioned here as an incidental
opportunity for a Central Government initiative that could
attract general approbation, be timely for the Millennium, help
to focus civic pride in parks and possibly bolster a declining
10. A further incidental suggestion,
inspired by the rural abutment to this particular park, is to
attach picturesque grazing where this may be possible using
set-aside farmland for instance, as recently introduced at Darwin's
Down House, or even operating a small mixed farm to complement
the park, as at nearby Titsey Place which is run by a Foundation.
11. The lake in the park could possibly be subject
to the Reservoirs Act 1975 (?) which presumably safeguards
people downstream from any breach in the dam. Compliance could
be onerous and expensive and far-reaching if there are, as reported,
20,000 relevant water bodies in Britain. This deserves review
to ensure that needless expense is not added to the already excessive
burdens on the parks.
12. The rest of this memorandum is concerned
with its provenance and supporting detail. We describe Dunorlan
Park and touch on its history and current problems as well as
the seven-year continuing story of attempts to save it from decay.
13. Dunorlan Park (31 hectares) lies
one mile east of Tunbridge Wells town centre, south of the A264
Pembury Road which was formerly known as Millionaires' Row. It
was created by Robert Marnock around 1850, to grace the mansion
of one Henry Reed, a Yorkshireman who made his millions in Tasmania.
In 1941 the house with 390 acres of adjacent park and farm lands
fell into the possession of the local council who subsequently
demolished the mansion for private housing and sold the farms
but retained Dunorlan Park for public enjoyment. The park comprises
a valley in which the River Teise rises, twice dammed to form
a large pond, then a six-acre lake whose outfall takes a man-made
cascade into a classic Victorian garden with pond, stepping stones
and ornamental stream to a once-magnificent fountain by George
Pulham (exhibited at Crystal Palace in 1861/2), which stands at
the bottom of a broken Avenue originally comprising 24 Douglas
firs alternating with as many Deodar cedars. In the summer the
lake is used for boating and there is a refreshment café.
14. Concern for the survival of the park
began about 1991, when the run-down of maintenance expenditure
had been biting for several years and protracted repairs to the
main dam required the lake level to be lowered, drawing disgusted
attention to the heavy silting and the failure of the stream feeding
the water system.
15. The half-dozen active worriers, getting
no useful response from the Council, approached existing watchdog
organisations for help and, in 1995, raised their concern in a
public meeting when it was agreed to form a group of Friends of
Dunorlan Park, analogous to the existing Friends of the local
Commons which, in turn, had been modelled on the Friends of Ashdown
16. Notwithstanding these antecedents the founding
members found it no easy matter to set about the formalities
and practicalities of establishing the registered charity, whose
original and continuing mission statement is Restoring the
lake and ponds, Providing a path round the lake, Restoring the
fountain and avenue of cedars, Reinstating the historic Victorian
garden, Helping countryside protection in the extension lands
and Helping to raise the £2 million needed to implement the
17. The launch in February 1996 of the Heritage
Lottery Fund's Urban Parks Programme offered a bait for
Council involvement and timely questioning at a public meeting
that summer ensured that a formal bid for a grant was submitted
before the closing date.
18. The bid lost to superior competition for
the monies available but the HLF did offer a grant of 75 per cent
of the cost of an Historic Restoration Plan to be prepared
by appropriate specialists.
19. The wheels grind slowly but the plan, for
a "historic building" rather than a park, has just been
completed and submitted. Meanwhile the Friends have been advised
that any efforts towards partnership funding, by work or by
cash, could be counter-productive in advance of the hoped-for
award of a grant. Afterwards their efforts should attract the
customary matching or gearing. There is an attempt, at paragraph
23, to explain the "Catch 22" that we see in this and
to propose a generic remedy.
20. Continuing problems. The bid seems
unlikely to solve the park's problems because of;
(a) Missing elements, such as draining the
lake and dredging it.
(b) Maintenance being by contract and lowest
tender rather than committed staff: see paragraph 22 below.
(c) Inadequacy and impermanence of council
funding in a competitive world.
(d) The funding gap in what the council is
prepared to put up as partnership money, £120,000 against
a need for at least £450,000 towards a total cost of £1.8
21. Inadequacy of staffing. The best
feature we have noticed in many Urban Parks awards and one included
in the current consultant's proposals, is the initial revenue
funding of additional parks staff (a head gardener in our case).
Yet the council, bowing to economic pressure, seems bent on the
22. Snags of Compulsory Competitive Tendering.
Park maintenance is contracted out to the lowest bidder, and it
shows in shoddiness of management in spite of having some good
individuals at operator level. The care of the park's 1,100 trees
has been badly compromised in this way and the decay of the historic
fountain under the contractors' neglect would never have been
countenanced without protest by a self-respecting head gardener
in direct employment. Even the café in the park stayed
closed for 18 months while the procedures to compete for the franchise
were tortuously applied and the preferred and demonstrably excellent
operator lost interest. Commonsense, which is apparently not an
option for local authorities, would have let the franchise on
short lease while the long-term contract was being negotiated.
Even now the authority seems obliged to choose the lowest bidder
when a businessman or private individual would recognise that
better value could be had by paying a little more.
23. Shortcomings of the HLF distribution
system. We have been contending for help from the HLF since
the Urban Parks Programme was announced in 1996, a very frustrating
experience because it is addressed to Park Owners rather than
park users. Some owners (councils) may be more interested in the
money to be gained than in the well-being of the park per se.
The UPP had the indirect benefit of gaining the attention of both
council and public and helped us to recruit members supporting
our objectives. Unfortunately, as we have found to our cost, the
apparently inconstant rules operated for partnership funding by
the Heritage Lottery Fund now seem counter-productive. When the
Urban Parks Programme was announced in 1996 and KCC encouraged
us to promote a bid for a grant, which TWBC eventually completed
and submitted, many of our members joined in voluntary conservation
work in the park believing that we were accumulating a partnership
funding credit of over £2,000 in the process. As the bid
failed, a possibility we recognised at the time, all that effort
is now lost (which we had not expected: we think the goalposts
have been moved) and counts for nothing towards our second
bid for essentially the same thing now dressed in different words.
So without some promise of continuity of recognition there is
a natural reluctance in the community to risk a second loss of
effort or money by starting too soon. Indeed, we have been advised
to wait a year or more until a grant has been agreed. From our
perspective such delay and discontinuity are damaging since enthusiasm
soon wanes when momentum is lost and, while councils and other
park owners may reasonably be debarred from aggregating all past
expenditure on a project as if it were partnership funding, the
relatively modest input from community effort is most efficacious
if it is generated continuously over an extended period because
it is simultaneously bonding the community and the park. So we
would argue that a limited portion of partnership funding in cash
or kind from community effort should be allowed to accumulate
over some years, if the need arises, before the grant is given.
24. Some kinds of people who use the park.
People with souls, religious or agnostic, who
come to appreciate the restorative ambience of this peaceful window
Mums with young children.
Carers of the physically and mentally disabled.
Growing families who enjoy boating, jogging,
kite-flying, picnicking, sailing radio-controlled model boats.
Followers of guided walks learning while looking
at trees, flowers, birds, bats insects, fungi, lichen and so forth.
Ring-fence annual parks maintenance
Review the impact of and need for
Compulsory Competitive Tendering.
Encourage and involve groups of Friends.
Provide incentive for fund-raising
and otherwise helping them to promote the care of their adopted
Seek a better mechanism than local
authorities for funding and control/management.
Keep parks freely accessible to all
and promote their variety.
Reinstate the traditional railings
Attach picturesque grazing fields
where this is appropriate and practical.
Review the application of the Reservoirs
Act 1975 (?) to ornamental lakes in parks.