Central Bedfordshire Council was awarded a grant of £2.2 million to transform the Houghton Hall Park as part of the 'Renaissance and Renewal Project' from Heritage and Big Lottery Funds ‘Parks for People’ grant scheme.
The completion of this transformation was in October 2017 when the new visitor centre was open to the public. This project has provided an opportunity for the park and its heritage to be protected while delivering multiple community benefits, making Houghton Regis a better place to live, work and visit.
This funding was used to fulfil multiple outcomes to benefit the local community, including:
The park is also supported by a team of incredible volunteers who contribute tirelessly to maintaining high standards across the site and ensuring that the park is a delightful, shared space for all.
The attributes of the park were formally recognised in 2019 when the site received a Green Flag award which has been retained ever since. This scheme acknowledges well managed parks and green spaces, measuring against benchmarked standards for the management of recreational outdoor spaces in the UK and beyond. The park has also been awarded a Cheering Volunteering award for Volunteer Team of the Year, as well as a CPRE Living Countryside Award.
Formal governance for the management of the park was established in order to proceed with the large-scale works associated with the Parks for People project. The park is managed under the framework of a Joint Venture Agreement (JVA) between Central Bedfordshire Council (CBC) and Houghton Regis Town Council (HRTC). CBC has been delegated power as the operating manager for the site, including the land formally retained under land ownership of HRTC. At the park there is a small team of full time Central Bedfordshire Council officers who run the day-to-day operations of the site. These roles are as follows:
Park Manager - responsible for overall management of the Park and Visitor Centre, including coordination of staff, addressing any emerging issues and overseeing general operations.
Community Ranger – responsible for habitat management to optimise biodiversity, maintaining the park’s features to ensure access for all, resolving safety concerns and engaging with park users.
Activity Officer - responsible for the delivery of the People Plan; planning activities and events and supporting the local community by providing a diverse range of opportunities for involvement.
Community Gardener – responsible for managing the kitchen garden and formal gardens and undertaking a high level of engagement through supervision of volunteers and community groups.
No changes to the internal governance of CBC or HRTC were required to undertake this project. CBC already has the appropriate powers, remit and responsibilities to fulfil project obligations.
A new Joint Venture Agreement between the two land owners was drawn up with a Strategic Objective “to jointly develop and manage the Estate as an important heritage site which is commercially sustainable and supportive of the Parties’ own aims and objectives.”
A Project Management Board was established made up of representatives of the two organisations. The Management Board is responsible for identifying priorities for action, overseeing the financial management of the Joint Venture and ensuring the overall park is managed in accordance with grant conditions imposed by Parks for People. The Board can be nominated as a decision-making authority for strategic considerations for the park where appropriate. The JVA recommends three nominated members from each authority to site on the Board.
Current Houghton Hall Park Board Members (July 2022) are:
Cllr Martin Kennedy (HRTC) (Chair)
Clare Evans (HRTC Clerk)
Cllr Susan Goodchild (CBC)
Cllr Tracey Stock (CBC)
Howard Hughes (CBC)
A ‘Management Advisory Group’ was also established comprising of representatives from each landowner as well as representatives from other interested parties/stakeholder groups. The Management Advisory Group acts as an operational advisory body, making recommendations to the Management Board, but do not act as a decision-making authority.
Current MAG members (July 2022) are:
Rachel O’Leary (CBC) (Park Manager) (Chair)
Steve Halton (CBC) (Senior Countryside Officer)
Eleanor Evans (CBC) (Community Ranger)
Tony Luff (HRTC Head of Grounds Operations)
David Hill/or nominated attendee (Houghton Regis Heritage Society)
Cllr Tracey McMahon (HRTC)
David Downes/ or nominated attendee (Friends of Houghton Hall Park)
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