Harrogate’s Award-Winning Park

Questions from the Community
Listed below are some of the questions received by FOVG from the community. Answers are provided.

Dogs swimming in the stream and disturbing the ducks/moorhens - is it permitted?  If not, can it be stopped?
Answer: I am not aware of a byelaw that actually says dogs cannot swim in the stream. Dogs are supposed to be kept on a lead and this is shown clearly on all the main entrances on the signs that have recently been re-skinned. As for stopping them I am not sure how that could be achieved. We only have two full time resident gardeners in the Park and whilst I am sure they will say something if they see someone causing a nuisance there is a real limit as to what they can achieve. I also happen to know that one of my team has been in there early on a morning a few times and she is aware of one particular owner whose Labrador heads straight for the stream and they don’t stop it.  She has spoken to them but sadly they did not care! That’s what we are up against.

Youths skateboarding in the Colonnade lobbies causing damage to the benches - this is probably more than just a sign issue.  The ranger used to be permitted to confiscate bicycles/ skateboards etc., hand them in to the police for them to be re-claimed from them - quite a good deterrent.  Is this still permitted?  If not, why not?
The Ranger does try and move on the bikers, footballers and skateboarders from the colonnades as and when he sees them. But like all things he has to be there when they are there causing a nuisance. He will continue to do so when he is there and sees a problem. As for confiscated bikes etc. as far as we are aware he has never done this and if he has he should not as he does not have the legal powers to do that. That said, we will change the sign to include skaters.

There is also the broader issue of cycling and skateboarding (not in the skateboard area) in the Valley Gardens.
We are continuing to work on this and have completed the signage we discussed previously. As with all things signs are not a direct deterrent and as a result we will again be working with Sk8safe this year who will be working with the youngsters to raise awareness and hopefully minimise this as a problem. I can also confirm the Ranger does stop people he sees cycling/skating through the park and he will continue to do this.

Is horse riding permitted in the Valley Gardens? Answer: Technically yes. The Bogs Field Act states that we can make byelaws in respect of the following: “… for regulating or prohibiting the hiring or riding of horses and other animals; and for preventing horse racing or the racing of other animals.” However, this only covers part of the gardens and we do not have a byelaw in place to support this, so it cannot be enforced.
Having said that, we would not actively encourage horse riding within any park or open space due to the possible impact on other park users and generally it is not a problem. There is also the inevitable problem as referred to above, in that if we had such a byelaw, how would it then be enforced? That said the byelaws are very dated and I have discussed the matter with our legal section as to whether or not they could be reviewed. They have confirmed we could but it is a lengthy process and one that will take a considerable period of time to work through. We are looking to see how we might implement such a review and deal with this issue. However, I would again stress that even if we do this the issue of enforcement is still a real concern and not one that I will get any more resources to address.

Signage at entrance - what is not permitted in relation to cycling, skateboarding, horse riding, alcohol, barbecues, other sporting activities etc?
Well I am sure that all of you who have visited the gardens over the past few weeks will have noticed the new signs that do just this and address all of the concerns raised and discussed previously at this meeting.

Could you tell me about the origin of the snake symbolism on the park benches, and indeed all over Harrogate.
Answer: The serpent symbols were taken from the serpents that entwine the staff of Aesculapius, the Greek God of Health, as they were considered an appropriate decorative device for a health Spa. (Thanks to Malcolm Neesam for this information.)
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There is a lack of 'Keep Dogs on Leads' signs in Valley Gardens. Can anything be done?

Answer: There is no byelaw preventing people from letting their dogs run loose. There is a clause that refers to people causing a nuisance but cannot really link that to a dog. The byelaws that cover Valley Gardens were approved in 1956 and do not really reflect the modern living environment of today. There is also the Bogs Fields Act 1986 which covers part of the Valley Gardens but again this does not mention dogs. It does however enable us to make byelaws within Bogs Field. P Kilburn has discussed with legal teams, what would be required to deal with this matter and should we choose to, what would be required to amend the byelaws. They have advised that the procedure for amending is the same as for making a new Byelaw, we would need to do a new one and revoke the old ones. This procedure begins with us drafting the byelaws. There are model byelaws available on DCLG's website (along with some guidance). The model we would use for this is model 2. The legislation that we would make this under would depend on how we derived an interest in the land and would be section 164 of the Public Health Act 1875, section 15 of the Open Spaces Act 1906 or sections 12 and 15 of the Open Spaces Act 1906. Once the byelaws are drafted (copies sent to the DCLG for provisional approval on the form and wording) they would need to be put before Committee and then before Council for approval. Once this has been done we would need to undertake a consultation period with the public including a notice in the local paper (previously we have also displayed a notice in the Library), there may be particular bodies to include in the consultation. This period is normally for a month. Any objections would need to be considered and there could be a possibility of a public inquiry if there are many. Following this consultation, and once the wording and form is agreed, we are required to have the byelaws approved by the Secretary of State who may approve and set a date that they come into force. It is a fairly easy procedure to follow, and looking back in old files it has taken up to a year from draft to Sec of State approval. P Kilburn is going to discuss this with our Cabinet Member and feels it is something that is worth doing consideration needs to be given to what is included and at which sites.

What is the Appropriate Dress Code within Valley Gardens?
Sunday 12th of September at around 10.30am a man was seen sitting on a bench, beneath the cherry tree on the column of seats between the colonnade and main entrance, dressed only in very brief underpants. Two young teenage girls occupied the adjacent seat. What are the rules of decency in a public park?
Answer: The dress code within Valley Gardens is the same as in any public area in Harrogate. If you feel that someone is not appropriately dressed, you should report it to the police non-emergency phone number: 0845 60 60 24 7.

Why Are There Charges for Rides at Certain Events, like the Big Picnic and others, in Valley Gardens?
Isn’t this Public Land that we pay for with Our Council Taxes? Shouldn’t the rides be free?
Answer from HBC: The Big Picnic is arranged by an independent organisation. As a land owner we make the land available and ensure they have all the necessary legal documents in place and have undertaken Health and Safety Risk Assessments. The actual management of the event is then down to them and we do not dictate what they can and cannot charge. This often occurs on land we manage and enables a wide range of events to take place across the District.
We do however also organise events on our sites, such as National Play Day held on the 4th August 2010, aimed at children and young people. Rides are included at this event for which a charge is made. The reason why we do this is that the owners of the rides attend at their own cost. These costs they have to recoup and they do that through charging. Clearly they are in it to make money and if we were to insist that the rides were free then there would be a direct cost to the Council for this to happen. This would be an additional cost for the Council Tax payer not already covered by the contribution that helps to pay for the provision and maintenance of the gardens.
With the constant financial pressures on budgets (particularly at this current time) to make the rides free would necessitate the Council paying the ride owners to attend as they would not turn up if they were not going to make any money. To fund this would require a reduction in spending elsewhere which would lead to a reduction in the quality of the gardens.
My preference as Head of Service is to continue along the lines we are doing which maintains the quality of the gardens and enables events to take place with a wide choice of facilities at them for those who wish to attend or participate.
I would also add that as part of any agreement with the ride providers, they are often required to provide a financial contribution to the charity being supported by the event.

Smoking in the Play Area
Could the Children’s Play Area be designated “non-smoking”?
Answer: No, it is not possible to do this. There is no legal basis for prohibiting smoking in this area and, without this, enforcement would not be possible. Furthermore, such a rule would be open to a challenge by those who disagree with it.

Number of Swings in the Play Area
These have been reduced to two of each size which creates queues and there is not much else for "little ones" to do.  Can the number of swings be increased to the original number, ie: 4 baby swings and 6 big swings?
Answer: An additional toddler swing unit with 2 swings has been installed. This adds to the existing 2 standard toddler swings and 2 junior swings. In addition there is the nest swing suitable for multiple children of all ages and the snake swing which can be used by 4 juniors at once. There is also the multifunctional swing which has 3 hanging seats and a surfboard type swing seat.

Toilets Near the Play Area
Toilets in the play area are required.  Will this happen?  The existing facilities are often dirty and the children do not want to use them.
Answer: Parks is working on a plan to build a new toilet block and Games in Parks Office near the Play Area. The plan has been submitted but, at a cost of £120,000, consideration has been deferred by HBC. Additional information was reported by the Harrogate Advertiser and can be read here. HBC will keep FOVG informed as the situation develops. At present, there are no approved plans, timescales, or budgets.

Fence at Bandstand 
Can the fence on the front of the bandstand be removed or replaced? Does it do any good?
Answer: The Bandstand has historically suffered from considerable vandalism, graffiti, ball game, and fire damage. The gate, or fence, was installed on a trial basis to try and reduce the amount of damage inflicted. The outcome of restricting access has been phenomenal in reducing acts of vandalism over the trial period. The new gates have been installed as shown below.

Signs to Toilets
Can more signs be put in place directing people to the toilets?
Answer: HBC will be happy to look at this as an option, but would be interested to know where the Group feel they are needed. It was noted that these concerns are raised via visitors who are unfamiliar with the garden’s layout. Based on a discussion at the meeting on 25 Nov, FOVG recommends that new signs be installed at the Cornwall Road entrance near the New Zealand Garden, at the Sun Pavilion, and at the toilets themselves. The existing sign near the Games in Parks office needs to be made more clear. As of Feb 2011, HBC has installed new signs on the toilet block which will remedy a large part of the issue. HBC is reviewing the remaining suggestions and the potential cost and will keep FOVG informed.

Protection for Sun Parlour Ceilings
Can some protection be installed to the ceilings in the Sun Parlours to prevent football damage?
Answer: Development Services are in agreement that the damage is frustrating and that an unobtrusive resolve is required. They advise that repairs over the last 2 years have totaled in the region of £8k. Repairs to the existing damage have now been completed adding to the overall expense cited above. A fine netting has now been installed and the Sun Parlours have been repainted. This should preclude any further damage.

Signs Prohibiting Football in Sun Parlours and Bandstand? 
Can “No Football” signs be placed around the Sun Parlours and Bandstand?
Answer: Signs have been installed, however, they do not include the Police contact phone number. The police phone number may be added to the Maps of Valley Gardens at the Main and Green Park Entrances.
Bird’s Nest?
What is the large bundle of “brambles” at the top of a tree near the duck pond? Is it a bird’s nest? 
Answer: FOVG member Nigel Heptinstall reports that he believes this is Witches Broom, and may be caused by fungi. The growth can provide nest sites for some birds and insects. For more information from Wikipedia, click here.

Are BBQs allowed in Valley Gardens?
Answer: No, we discourage the use of BBQ’s in any open spaces, but it is not illegal and there is not a specific Bye Law within the Valley Garden Bye Laws. Changes to the Bye-laws are very difficult and time consuming to enact

Mud,Mud, and More Mud!
The play area is extremely muddy and many parents tend not to use the facility in wet weather.  It is not just a case of a quick wipe down, the children are often drenched and very upset.  The “general feeling” appears to be that most parents would like to see the bounce proof flooring reinstalled, especially at the bottom of the slide. Also, most parents would like to see the hard standing floor coverings returned around all the main apparatus for safety and to reduce the muddy issues.
Answer: HBC are aware that this is a problem. There was little time for the grass to get established when building the play area and opening on the committed dates. It was also worsened due to the bad winter and melting snow.  The following improvements have been made to the Play Area to help reduce the mud: old matting has been lifted and sand has been put down to help with drainage prior to relaying; new matting has been laid; new turf has been laid; a consultant has been appointed to draw up a drainage scheme to prevent further runoff onto the Play Area from surrounding works.

The slide is very steep with an abrupt stop at the bottom. Steps at the side make it difficult for parents to supervise their children ascending them whilst waiting at the bottom to catch them.  One parent regularly tells her children they cannot go on the slide for these reasons. Can anything be done about this?
Answer: HBC took advice from recognised play organisations and the equipment provided is safe. There are no serious risks.  All standards are met.  Parents and children have their own responsibilities to ensure that equipment is used as intended.  The design of the play area and equipment is to provide a learning process for exploration and experience.

Play Area a Disgrace (Harrogate Advertiser of 7th Jan 2011):
Having enjoyed the company of my grandchildren over the Christmas holiday I was very disappointed when visiting the children's play area in the Valley Gardens. It was a disgrace. It was impossible to walk on most areas let alone run as most children do because of the water logged condition of the whole surface.
I accept that there has been recent adverse weather which will have affected the surface but that does not excuse the overall condition. I am no expert in laying foundations for such an area but note that it is situated at the foot of a steep slope which presumably causes the water to flow towards the play area. I would have hoped that whoever designed and laid the surface would have considered and laid a foundation drainage and an appropriate surface.
I would ask the Council as a matter of urgency to investigate why the area is in such a state and carry out remedial work to ensure that it is usable at all times irrespective of weather conditions.
Answer: It is disappointing that the complainant preferred to go to the paper before at least consulting HBC. If they had consulted, they would have found out that as part of the works for the Skate Park, we are putting in a new drain which will have the facility to connect a catch drain to stop the surplus water running into the play area from the surrounding land. This will greatly improve the situation. In addition, we are currently in the middle of winter and have had a wet period, so the area is naturally going to be wet. We do not have the resources to drain the whole area and, even if we did, there is currently no outfall to connect that drain in to.

Suggestions for Improvement in Play Area
Would it be possible to get one or two additional picnic tables in the Children’s Play Area? Also, it would be great if a tree could be planted to give some shade to the picnic tables near the zip wire. Lastly, could a bench be added that faces the the zip wire?
Answer: Two new picnic tables have been installed in the play area. A tree, however, may not be practical. There are several trees already within the gardens to provide shade and further trees, whilst adding to this, will obscure the CCTV coverage.

What are the Metal Stands About 6 ft high in the Upper Part of Valley Gardens?
Whilst walking with friends in the upper playing field area of the gardens, we were intrigued by several metal stands about 6ft high with a lower circular basket connected to the central stand with double chains. Please put us out of our misery and tell us what they are.

Answer: The Galvanised circular baskets on stands dotted about the higher part of the park are part of a 9 hole Disc Golf course. The discs can be hired at the Games in Parks Office. The course was introduced about a year ago by HBC and cost ~£2400 to install. This is just one of many ideas to improve the  play and games area in the park. It is a simple idea that needs no real maintenance and when you have a go, it becomes very addictive. Below is a cutting from The Harrogate Advertiser from a year ago. Hope this explains everything as some people thought the baskets were Squirrel feeders. You can learn more about Disc Golf and see the course layout in Valley Gardens by clicking here.
Try disc golf in the Valley Gardens (Published by the Harrogate Advertiser on Thursday 1 April 2010)
THERE are no woods, irons, fairways or bunkers - but Harrogate's latest addition to 'Games in Parks' is set to be as addictive as traditional golf.
As part of improvements to its play activities, Harrogate Borough Council has introduced disc golf into the Valley Gardens.
Disc golf is a game in which individual players throw a flying disc into a basket. The object of the game is to complete the course in the fewest number of throws of the disc. It is reasonably priced and is suitable for all ages and athletic abilities.
The game is played in America and over 20 other countries around the world - but this is the first time Harrogate Council has introduced it into one of its parks.