Plans to halve the budget for park volunteer groups in Bexley could be offset by charging dog walkers, a councillor has suggested.

Bexley Council is proposing to cut £20,000 from the money available to ‘friends of parks’ groups that look after some of the borough’s open spaces.

The £40,000 budget was brought in two years ago, but so far this year under £20k has been requested from volunteers.

The council has an £8m budget gap which will rise year-on-year unless it steps in now, and reducing the cash available for park groups is one of dozens of saving ideas proposed by officers.

One idea proposed by Councillor Alan Downing is to charge dog walkers for using some of the borough’s open spaces.

Cllr Downing said: “Perhaps we should go down the thinking that the majority of people walking on green spaces are walking a dog. Can we not consider a small fee? Something like £15/20 a year – I walk every morning with my animal and everyone I meet would be happy to pay this.

“Some people come from other areas because other councils charge for it. It’s just a thought, a way of gaining money that can go towards the upkeep.”

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Cllr Peter Craske, the cabinet member for places, said it was an option that could be looked at, but wasn’t sure many people would be on board.

Cllr June Slaughter, Sidcup, was concerned groups were not being made aware that the cash existed.

Cllr Slaughter said at a meeting on Tuesday:  “The value of the work carried out by volunteers is £72,000 – probably an underestimate.

“I wonder if the cabinet member has had any discussions with the groups direct himself – I wonder if he feels if the reduction in funding which only came in earlier this year, will not do a great deal in encouraging these groups at a time when we are asking people in the borough to become more self-sufficient.”

The £40,000 budget is used for friend groups to buy equipment and development of new groups.

The council is planning on employing a specialised bid writer who will help identify grants and apply for extra cash from avenues that haven’t been explored yet.

Cllr Craske said this would help if the budget be reduced.

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He said: “This budget was set up to help those groups. It was set up at £40,000 and we are proposing to bring it down to £20,000. As of now, in this financial year, the amount of money requested has not reached £20,000.

“The groups that exist now would still be covered by this – and as touched on   a key part of the bid writer role is to seek out that funding. There’s a lot of money out there if you look for it.

“£20,000 has to be found from somewhere, that’s the dilemma we have. Broadly, the groups that we have now would not notice much difference. As I said this budget didn’t exist two years ago – even if it’s £20k it’s still more than we had two years ago.”

UPDATE 11.30am: Cllr Craske has since Tweeted to say the dog walking proposal "was looked at, but will not be taken any further."