The case for a dedicated green spaces strategyby Clive Betts / February 23, 2017 / Leave a comment
Our public parks are under threat, with cuts to their funding being one of the biggest challenges they face. Local authorities are grappling with extraordinary pressures on their finances, and parks all too often are ending up as casualties of difficult decisions, since many town halls do not appreciate the benefits they bring.
The scale of spending reductions varies between local authorities. Newcastle City Council told the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee that its parks management budget has been cut by 97 per cent over the past five years, whereas Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council’s budget for green space management and maintenance is down 30 per cent over six years. Council officers and volunteer groups have been doing sterling work to mitigate the full impact of the squeeze, but such support is unlikely to be sustainable in the long-term, leaving parks at a tipping point and facing a period of decline unless further resources are found.
The Communities and Local Government Committee’s parks report highlights examples of the deterioration being seen across the country. These include closure of amenities, such as paddling pools, play equipment and public toilets, and increased prevalence of nuisance plants, such as Japanese knotweed, or vermin, such as rats. Elsewhere, opening hours have been reduced and enforcement capabilities decreased, leading to a rise in antisocial behaviour, litter, vandalism and other crime.
There are an estimated 27,000 parks in the UK and the level of response to our inquiry demonstrated how much they matter to people who visit them. The Committee received nearly 400 submissions of written evidence, more than any other inquiry that we have conducted in this parliament, and a petition signed by more than 322,000. We also had more than 13,000 people respond to a survey we organised, which showed that nearly one in 10 use their local park at least once a week, 60 per cent spend up to two hours there at a time and almost all of them feel parks have a positive impact on their health and wellbeing. People show their support for parks in practical ways, through the work of the numerous friends and volunteer groups, without which many parks would be in an even worse position.
Parks are much more than just grass and tulips. They are rightly valued as places for recreation, leisure and exercise but…