Home For the record Bowring Park – the facts

Bowring Park – the facts

by Lisa Bennett

Bowring Park in Roby is a 53.6-hectare public open space that includes the oldest municipal golf course in the country.

In recent years this historic site has benefitted from significant investment and numerous improvements thanks to a partnership between the Council, managing agents Oneday, The Heritage Lottery Fund and other groups including Friends of the Park.

With more exciting plans in the pipeline, here is a round up of what’s been happening on site and the facts surrounding the ownership and running of this valued community asset.

The history

Bowring Park was gifted to the City of Liverpool by William B Bowring in 1906 on the agreement that it would be “used for general recreation purposes …. for the benefit of the inhabitants of the city.” This agreement established the Bowring Park Trust (a Registered Charity) of which Knowsley Council became the sole Corporate Trustee (and freehold owner of the whole park) in 1997 when the park was transferred from Liverpool City Council.

Recent years

From 2017, Knowsley Council began a Restoration Project in conjunction with The National Heritage Lottery Fund which has enabled significant improvements to be made.

Unfortunately, in 2018, Mack Trading Ltd, the company running Bowring Park Golf Course went into administration and closed the course with immediate effect. Knowsley Council quickly stepped in and took over the running of the course, until a new operator could be found. At the time, the course was operating at a significant financial loss and its long-term future was uncertain.

In 2019, the Council confirmed its intention to undertake a procurement exercise to find a new managing agent for the site.

Following a rigorous procurement process, Oneday Ltd were appointed as the Managing Agent and granted exclusive right to use and develop Bowring Park in line with the Council’s aspirations for the park.

In October 2021 a report was approved by Knowsley Council’s Cabinet agreeing to enter into a Concession Agreement and a 2-year lease with Oneday Ltd – with a view to granting them a longer lease at the end of the initial period.

In line with the terms of the Local Government Act 1972 (section 123) and the Charities Act 2011 (section 117), the Council formally advertised its intention to ‘dispose’ of the land / grant a long lease at Bowring Park in December 2022. Anyone raising an objection had until 31 January 2023 to do so. In addition to placing advertisements in the Liverpool Echo, the Council published information on its website and also informed key stakeholders including the Golf Club and Friends Group. No objections were received.

Start of a new chapter for Bowring Park

In March 2022, Oneday formally took over as Managing Agents with responsibility for the day-to-day management of the park and for driving forward improvement plans.

As part of their concession agreement, Oneday agreed to:

  • maintain the Park and golf course to achieve Green Flag standard
  • maintain the existing offer at the golf course
  • deliver an agreed community engagement programme
  • provide a food and beverage offer on site
  • make the Coach House and Stables building available for use by local groups
  • establish good working relationships with the golf course staff, clubs and Friends Group
  • appoint key staff
  • secure leases with anchor tenants
  • secure planning permission for the delivery of a new masterplan
  • complete the transfer of golf club staff
  • achieve admitted body status in the Merseyside Pension Fund

In return, during this initial 2-year period, the Council agreed to complete the outstanding Heritage Lottery work on the site and secure relevant permissions from the Charities Commission, Liverpool City Council and The Heritage Lottery Fund.

Subject to all of the above being achieved, the intention is to grant Oneday a long lease (123 years) of the park to facilitate further multi-million-pound investment and improvements. 

What’s already been delivered?

The park has benefitted from a £3.685 million investment from the Council and The National Heritage Lottery Fund. This has been used to develop a conservation plan, feasibility studies, an archaeological survey, as well as improving visitor facilities and restoring the walled and sunken gardens.

Work has also included the restoration of the stable block and coach house and the creation of a new café and meeting rooms.

Landscaping work has taken place across the site and a full activity programme has been introduced.

In early 2023, a new Toddler Play area was completed and in August a new Junior Play area unveiled.

This improvement work has created opportunities for a broad range of community activities, heritage walks, educational links with schools and colleges and volunteering opportunities.

This has enabled more people to visit the park and boost their health and wellbeing.

What’s next?

Given the consistent progress made by Oneday in meeting the agreed list of conditions set out in the concession contract and subject to further Council approval, the Council will seek to enter into the 123-year lease with Oneday for the site later this year.

The Council will remain a trustee of Bowring Park Trust and will continue to monitor that the site is being used for the relevant purposes.

Oneday’s Master Plan for the park includes proposals to improve the golf offer which includes improvement to the course and the creation of a new club house. Wider improvements to the park include the creation of a new visitor centre and expansion of the educational offer with partner Myerscough college who operate from the site. There will also be improvements to the walled garden and the delivery a varied community events and activity offer. The projected financial value of all benefits, including social value, will be approximately £55m over the first ten years.

Oneday is in regular contact with key stakeholder groups – including the Friends of the Park – to shape their plans and future developments on site.

Why has it been reported that the park is being sold for £1?

Legal requirements dictate that when granting a long lease for public open space, the freeholder must advertise the site as a ‘disposal.’ The Council did this in 2022 as it intends, subject to conditions being satisfied, to grant a long lease to OneDay of Bowring Park.

This is a similar arrangement to those in place in other areas of the borough where Parish or Town Councils hold long leases on public open space. This is not actually a ‘sale’ as such, but the granting of a long lease.

Legal requirements also dictate that any legal agreement relating to the granting of a long lease on land must contain an element of ‘consideration.’ The mention of £1 is this ‘consideration’ and ensures the agreement is legally binding. This is set at the lowest possible value as the Council wants to ensure that it secures the maximum financial investment by Oneday in driving further improvements to the park – rather than simply making financial payments directly to the Council.

Why would the Council agree to this?

The figure is set at £1 (the lowest value) as the Council does not wish to sell the Bowring Park public open space for profit.  Instead it wants to see any value reinvested into the asset itself.

Its aim is to secure the long-term future of the site and engage the services of an organisation that will invest in the park and create a commercially sustainable asset for the community to enjoy for generations to come.

If the Council sold the land for the estimated open value of just under £1 million to Oneday (or another organisation) then that is £1 million less that that organisation would have to improve and manage the park.

Given the financial implications of running and maintaining such spaces (and the previous financial issues encountered by the former leaseholders) the Council had to consider the best way to ensure a longer term and sustainable future for the park.

Who or what is Oneday?

Oneday is a limited company that is focussed on creating socially and economically viable places working with local communities. The team at Oneday has a wealth of experience in commercial retail, sports and leisure, hospitality services, golf course development and maintenance, community cohesion, and cultural/heritage celebration.

They have experience of working on a range of heritage projects, including Conway Castle and church restoration projects across the country, they have developed regeneration strategies for retail, including working with Liverpool One and the development and operation of a food and drink offer in Liverpool.