Parks face threat of decline with severe consequences

The Communities and Local Government (CLG) Committee report on public parks warns that parks are at a tipping point and face a period of decline with potentially severe consequences unless their vital contribution to areas such as public health, community integration and climate change mitigation is recognised.

Councils should publish strategic plans

The Public parks report highlights considerable challenges for the sector including reduced council spending, with parks management budgets cut by up to 97 per cent, the need for parks to compete with other services for funding, and planning policy not giving them enough weight, particularly as a result of pressures to increase housing supply.

The Committee call on councils to publish strategic plans, which recognise the value of parks beyond leisure and recreation and set out how they will be managed to maximise their contribution to wider local authority agendas, such as promoting healthy lifestyles, tackling social exclusion and managing flood risk. It is hoped these plans will open up parks to support and funding beyond their usual budgets and service areas.

Ashford Borough Council (ABC) has included improvement to parks and open space in its corporate plan

The Victoria Park and Watercress Fields Masterplan was adopted by ABC’s Cabinet on 10 March 2016

Parks make vital contributions to physical and mental health

Clive Betts MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

“Every local authority should have a strategic plan, recognising that parks are much more than just grass and tulips and bringing in resources from outside the traditional budgets. Parks make vital contributions to physical and mental health and bring significant community benefits. They also contribute to biodiversity and climate change mitigation and can assist in local economic growth. …”

Innovation in management and funding sources needed

The Committee received a wide range of suggestions for alternative funding sources and management models and says the Parks Minister, Andrew Percy MP, the Local Government Association and local authorities should consider them. The Government should also look to remove barriers to these innovative models, such as considering a public interest test to enable local authorities to overturn restrictive covenants.

Other findings, conclusions and recommendations include:

Public parks should remain under local authority ownership and freely available to everyone.
The Committee welcomes the Minister’s confirmation that he recognises the current lack of coordination and his intention to establish a cross-departmental group to consider the Committee’s report and recommendations.
The Committee recommends the Minister issues guidance setting out key principles for the appropriate governance and accountability arrangements, which could be put in place as part of any emerging or alternative models for parks management.
The Minister should work with his colleagues in Defra to ensure that parks, and green infrastructure more widely, are properly recognised in the Government’s forthcoming 25-year Environment Plan.

View the interactive report summary

Read the full report: Public parks

Communities and Local Government Committee 11 February 2017

Read South Ashford Community Forum’s Submission to the Committee

Read Historic England’s article ‘Historic Urban Parks Under Threat’

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