I would like to preface my report by paying tribute to two members of our committee. Earlier this year we were greatly saddened by the death of Helen Noble who had been a member of the committee since 2007. She was a very active member of the community in the Lache and was an enthusiastic supporter of Westminster Park. She came to many of the public events in the park and I remember her helping with pleasure and energy at various bulb and tree planting sessions. More recently Allan Stobie has decided to stand down from the committee for health reasons. He was involved from the inauguration of the Friends of Westminster Park in 2001 and served as Chairman from 2005 until last year. Together with the previous Secretary, Paul Makin, he was instrumental in promoting and attracting external funding for many of the major improvements we have seen the in park over recent years. We are most grateful for the contributions of both Helen Noble and Allan Stobie and we shall greatly miss their presence on the committee. I will say more about the present and proposed structure of the committee when we come to elections to the committee later in the agenda.
Turning to the park itself, I am pleased to report that Westminster Park has enjoyed a good year. The fine summer weather resulted in many more visitors making use of the excellent sporting and recreational facilities in the park and many have commented on how attractive the autumn foliage has been. The park has received its third national Green Flag award and its future as an outdoor recreational area has been safeguarded by designation as one of the Queen Elizabeth II Fields in Trust. Thanks to efforts by Cheshire West and Chester Council, the bowling greens, croquet lawns and cricket pitch have been maintained in excellent condition. In addition, following representations by the Friends of Westminster Park, more of the boundary and internal hedges have been cut than in previous years and a more systematic programme is being drawn up for future years. The remaining sections of burnt and damaged hedging near the Lache Lane entrance are due to be replaced during the winter season. The café block has also benefitted from long overdue repairs to the roof and replacement and repainting of external fascia boards. There was also a successful apple pressing day attended by many members of the public during October.
However, there are still a several areas where remediation and improvement are required. The poor condition of the public toilets remains the greatest concern. Discussions have been continuing as to how these might be improved but the way forward is still not at all clear. Another area of disappointment has been the failure to extend the range of food and beverages on offer at the café. Recent discussions with Brio, who operate the golf course and café, have not engendered any confidence that the café will be improved. To add to the list, after some refurbishment at the beginning of the season, the golf tees continue to be subject to wear and tear and there are no current plans for replacement. The two public tennis courts are closed for safety reasons, two items of equipment in the teenage recreation area are now out of commission, and parts of the BMX track are in need of repair. In every case, the explanation is that no funds are available for repairs.
As you can imagine, these are sources of continuing frustration and we are continuing to make the strongest possible representations to the Council and Brio on all these matters. However, it is difficult to see the situation changing and tight constraints on public funding are likely to be with us for many more years to come. External funding can sometimes be found for major improvement projects, such as we have had in Westminster Park in the past and are now being implemented in Grosvenor Park, but there is no such external funding for what should be regular upkeep and maintenance. In this situation, it is becoming timely to consider whether other forms of management and wider use of private organisations and local volunteers might be more appropriate to achieve the full potential of the facilities we know and cherish in Westminster Park. If any residents or visitors to Westminster Park have experience in developing or running these kinds of facilities, the Friends of Westminster Park would be pleased to hear any ideas or suggestions.
I should also mention that various parts of the Council involved in the running of Westminster Park are being subject to another round of internal re-organisation. Greenspace has been responsible for policy, preparing an annual management plan and the provision of park rangers, whose services have been much appreciated. Streetscene has been responsible for regular maintenance in the park, litter collection, and cleaning and maintaining the public toilets. Under the new arrangements, the operational side of Greenspace is transferring to Streetscene and, unfortunately, we shall be losing our recently appointed park ranger. Jill Connolly, who was the parks manager in the final year of the former Chester City Council, is returning as our principal point of contact for Westminster Park.
Property Services remain responsible for the central building housing the café, changing rooms and public toilets, and Brio remain responsible for collecting golf course fees and running the café.
Lastly, I would like to say how much we appreciate the interest and support shown by our local councilors. I think we all recognise that Westminster Park is an extremely valuable and much appreciated asset in the community. If between us we can find a way of resolving some of the shortcomings I have mentioned, we can turn a very good park into an outstanding park.