The Isle of Wight Council is inviting expressions of interest in taking over the running of its countryside estate and service – with the aim of protecting and enhancing the existing estate and improving public access and voluntary sector involvement.
The council has published a notice inviting suitably qualified organisations the chance to oversee and manage the estate, which totals 170 hectares across 20 locations on the Island.
The aim is to safeguard the countryside estate and ensure it is well-managed long into the future.
The sites include protected areas with great wildlife and landscape value and the majority are currently held by the council on a freehold basis. A 21-year full repairing and insuring lease is being proposed for the majority of sites under the new arrangement, which would involve maintaining and developing public access.
The service currently operates with a small workforce and significant voluntary help. It is hoped the new arrangement will allow the future development of the service beyond its current levels.
To assist the selected partner to deliver the objectives and encourage the development of a sustainable business plan, the council will offer revenue support grant funding during the first three years.
Many of the sites are subject to stewardship arrangements between the council and the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which provide annual revenue payments in relation to specific works to conserve and enhance biodiversity, heritage and public access.
The prospectus document states: “The sites together are more likely to prove to be a sustainable estate than if managed separately and for this reason the Isle of Wight Council will strongly favour solutions that keep the majority of the sites managed by one organisation.”
Some countryside sites will be retained by the council for operational reasons, but the majority are due to be transferred. Some of the staff, vehicles and other assets could also be transferred, depending on the agreement reached.
Interested parties will have until 6th March to complete and submit their application and it is hoped the new partner organisation will be in place by 1st April.
Information packs and further details about the application and countryside estate are available from: Gina Gajic, Administration Officer, Recreation, Leisure and Public Spaces, Isle of Wight Council, County Hall, Newport, Isle of Wight PO30 1UD; tel: (01983) 821000 (ext: 8762); email: [email protected]
The prospectus is also available via the council’s website at: www.iwight.com/prospectus
Councillor Luisa Hillard, Executive member for sustainability, environment and public realm, said:
“I can assure residents that the council takes its stewardship responsibilities very seriously and that we value our countryside as an asset for not only wildlife but residents and visitors. Public access will therefore be protected so that we can all continue to enjoy these sites.
“I am confident that we will have some high quality applicants come forward who will be more able to invest and improve our countryside for the benefit of the Island.”