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Agenda Item No

 

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

 

Cabinet Meeting: 21 January, 2013

 

Cabinet Member for Leisure, Parks, Culture and Sports Development

Cosmeston Lakes Country Park and Medieval Village

 

Purpose of the Report

1.         To consider options for the future of Cosmeston Lakes Country Park and Medieval Village and propose specific partnership arrangements.

Recommendations

1.         That the progress on developing the Medieval Village is noted.

2.         That Officers explore the development of a Friends of Cosmeston Lakes Group, invite participation, and a further report is presented in due course.

3.         That the Director of Development Services is given delegated powers to enter into a special arrangement with the Cosmeston Medieval Village Trust as set out in the report, in consultation with Cabinet Member for Leisure, Parks, Culture and Sports Development. 

4.         That the Head of Legal Services be authorised to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Cosmeston Medieval Village Trust.

Reasons for the Recommendations

1.         To apprise members.

2.         In order to develop opportunity for community involvement and fund raising.

3.         To develop the Medieval Village.

4.         To allow the arrangement to be formalised.

Background

2.         In June 2012 a new model for the operation of Cosmeston Medieval Village was put into place.  Previously the Council employed a large team of staff, organised events at its own financial risk and provided costumed staff to enhance the Village experience.  This was not sustainable resulting in a very significant financial loss to the Council.  Much of the losses related to core management staff time and other costs spent on preparation for events which were entirely weather dependent, and often provided very limited revenue.  In this context, the vast majority of Country Park visitors did not enjoy the Medieval Village as they elected not to pay for entry. 

 

3.         Under the new model, a reduced staff core is managed directly by the Country Park Ranger Service, realising very significant cost savings.  The Village has been opened to Country Park visitors at no charge, although the visitor experience has been reduced due to fewer costumed staff.  Guided tours continue to be offered to pre-booked parties, including schools, but Council led events have been stopped.  The Council has set fees for third parties to deliver events, at their own financial risk.

 

4.         Since the new model came into being, efforts have concentrated on building the offer, within more sustainable financial constraints.  The new management and staffing structure has resulted in much improved maintenance of the site, and it has been possible to re-introduce guided tours for the general public without pre-booking, albeit at present limited to weekends.  This has been done at no additional costs and original savings targets are being met.  Entry remains free of charge, with electronic wands in multiple languages available as an alternative to a tour, at a charge.

Relevant Issues and Options

5.         The Village now forms an integral part of the Country Park as a visitor offer, with all visitors enjoying free entry if they choose.  With fewer costumed staff on site, it is recognised that interpretation needs to be improved.  In this respect, an application was successfully submitted to Creative Rural Communities, the Council led Rural Regeneration Partnership.  This grant is for funding to purchase comprehensive interpretation materials and signage.  Match funding will be found from within existing budgets.  In parallel to this, officers are exploring ways of generating volunteer activity on site, to enhance the number of costumed interpreters, with the possibility of allowing some animals to be reintroduced.  This is proving successful so far.

 

6.         However, key to building the offer, and in particular to generating tourist spend, is the events programme.   In this respect, officers are currently engaged in a marketing exercise for the Council’s two Country Parks, including the Medieval Village.  An invitation is being offered to leisure and other commercial organisations wishing to provide activities and events at the Country Parks to enhance user experience.  This could be anything from boating to fayres or, for instance, archery or falconery demonstrations at the Medieval Village.  Whilst this is an opportunity to raise income, more important in assessing bids will be the suitability of an event or activity to the environmental setting, and the amount by which it adds to visitor experience and tourism potential of the sites.

 

7.         Officers have for some time been exploring options for grants to resource a re-investment programme in Cosmeston Lakes Country Park as a whole.  There is a need to invest in indoor educational (and community) space to allow full use of the Country Park for promoting environmental awareness and education.  There would also be considerable benefits from improving some of the public realm and adding facilities to allow enjoyment of the Country Park (e.g. boat storage).  I will report further on this in due course.

 

8.         Proposals set out above for the improvement of Cosmeston rely on bringing in external resources; by way of grants, income, volunteer activity, or simply ideas.  A key way of achieving this is via greater involvement of the community.  I am therefore proposing that a Friends of Cosmeston Lakes Group is formed.  If such a body becomes a charity, it can access grants not available to the Council, which could provide match funding for larger grants secured by the Council, for instance, from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

 

9.         In respect of the Medieval Village, a separate similar opportunity has arisen.  As a result of the recent changes at the Village, a community interest group has formed, wishing to enhance the Village.  Officers have worked closely with and supported this group, resulting in a formal proposal being received.  The group has now constituted itself into a not for profit limited company, registered as the Cosmeston Medieval Village Trust.

 

10.      The Trust has presented a range of aspirations for involvement in the Village.  As a starting point, it would like to recruit volunteers, raise funds and in particular lead on a programme of core events at the village.  Its longer term aspirations include substantial changes to the Village, involving major investment and perhaps a more direct role in the running of the Village.  On these latter points, there is no sound resourced business plan yet in place, and there would be procurement issues to be addressed before any agreement could even be considered.  Furthermore, the Trust has not yet demonstrated capacity to deliver.  However, there would be benefit in the Council engaging formally with the Trust on fund raising, volunteer activity and an events programme only, whilst discussions progress and the group develops and perhaps demonstrates capacity.  I am therefore recommending that the Council formally recognises the Trust as a partner and, in essence, plays the same role in the Village as the Friends of Cosmeston Lakes could for the remainder of the Country Park.

 

11.      Essentially recognition would involve:

·                Entering into a Memorandum of Understanding.

·                Working together on volunteer recruitment.

·                The Trust raising funds for the Village.

·                Special arrangements put in place for events.  Currently the Council passes all financial risk to third parties wishing to deliver events, charging a fee for the use of the Village.  In respect of the Trust this fee could be reduced substantially, on the understanding that all financial risk remains with the Trust but income raised by the Trust is ring fenced for the Village.

·                The Trust promoting the Village via its own website, etc.

·                The Council providing an officer as an observer on the Trust’s Board.

·                Working in partnership on possible grant bids for investment in the Medieval Village.

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)

12.      The proposals seek to maximise resources available for Cosmeston Lakes Country Park and Medieval Village.  All proposals set out are deliverable within existing revenue budgets for the Country Park and Medieval Village.

Sustainability and Climate Change Implications

13.      A key role of our Country Parks is to facilitate environmental education.  Proposals listed above aim to ensure long term financial sustainability of the site.

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

14.      The Council will need to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with the proposed Medieval Village Trust to clearly set out any arrangement with the Trust on matters as identified in paragraphs 10 and 11 of this report.

Crime and Disorder Implications

15.      There are no crime and disorder implications as a result of this report.

 

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

16.      There are no equal opportunity implications as a result of this report.

Corporate/Service Objectives

17.      Service Plan action PT/A91 seeks to improve facilities and opportunities for participation in Country Parks.

Policy Framework and Budget

18.      This is a matter for Executive decision.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

19.      Ward Members have been consulted on the content of this report.

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

20.      Economy and Environment.

Background Papers

None.

 

Contact Officer

Bob Guy, Operational Manager for Countryside and Economic Projects.

 

Officers Consulted

Principal Accountant

Legal Services - Committee Reports

Country Parks Manager

Operational Manager, Tourism and Leisure

 

Responsible Officer:

 

Rob Thomas, Director of Development Services