A report from the Heritage Lottery Fund reveals the growing risk of Britain’s parks becoming run down or getting sold. Photograph: Heritage Lottery Fund
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The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has published its first report to review comprehensively the condition and management of the UK’s public parks.
State of UK Public Parks 2014: Renaissance to risk? states that while two decades of public and national lottery investment has ensured that the majority of UK parks are in better condition, unless future funding is generated in new ways, parks are at serious risk of rapid decline and even of being sold off and lost to the public forever.
The report notes that 86% of parks managers report cuts to revenue budgets since 2010, a trend they expect to continue over the next three years, despite numbers of visitors to parks reportedly increasing. This could mean that park facilities such as cafes and toilets are closed or opening hours reduced; that grass will be left uncut; flower beds left empty; play areas less regularly cleaned and inspected; and that there’s more anti-social behaviour because of fewer park staff.
Some 45% of local authorities are said to be considering either selling parks and green spaces or transferring their management to others, which could mean the loss of some parks. The report notes too that 81% of council parks departments have lost skilled management staff since 2010 and 77% have lost front-line staff.
Yet parks are among our most highly used public assets, with 34 million people estimated to make regular park visits, and 68% of park users said to consider spending time in their local park as important or essential to their quality of life. This rises to 71% in urban areas and 81% for those with children under 10 years old.
‘We know people love being outdoors and some of their most treasured spaces to relax and play are those on their doorstep, their local parks and green spaces,’ says Harry Bowell, regional director at the National Trust. ‘This groundbreaking report from HLF is a wake-up call,’ he adds. ‘The traditional model for funding public parks is breaking down and bold new ideas are needed. We want to help find solutions that could work in every city and town.’
The report makes for ‘sobering reading’, says HLF chair Dame Jenny Abramsky, and ‘we need collaborative action and a fresh approach to halt this threat of decline and stop this cycle of boom and bust’. Our parks are far too important, she adds, not to act now.
Britain’s parks have enjoyed a 20-year ‘renaissance’ as a result, in part, of £700 million of Lottery investment. However, local authorities have no statutory requirement to fund and maintain them. Nor is there a national coordinating body able to champion the importance of parks, to assert their value to communities and the economy, and protect them for future generations to enjoy.
In addition to calling for continued investment by local authorities, HLF’s report highlights the need to develop new ways of looking after and funding parks.
Finding innovative ways to make the financing and management of parks sustainable is vital to ensuring their future, it notes. HLF and the Big Lottery Fund are working in partnership with the innovation charity Nesta on a Rethinking Parks programme. This supports organisations exploring, testing and scaling new approaches to generating income for parks and to managing them. Soon to be announced, says HLF, are grants totaling £1million ‘that will enable a range of innovative park projects to be piloted’.