New report examines effects of funding cutbacks

View of great lawn at Burgess Park, Southwark. © LDA Design

The Gardens Trust has published a report highlighting the increasing risk that continuing budget cuts pose to public parks.

Uncertain Prospects: public parks in the new age of austerity has been written by Dr Katy Layton-Jones of the University of Leicester, looking back over advances in the past 20 years, and highlighting regression over the past six years. For example, the report argues that when the Heritage Lottery Fund launched its Urban Parks Programme in 1996, it heralded a parks renaissance, with investments of more than £850 million over 20 years. Cuts introduced from 2010 onwards are stymying that progress.

‘It’s not entirely straightforward,’ said Dr Layton-Jones. ‘Parks budgets were still under pressure throughout the golden age of Lottery funding, but the general trend is clear. As a result of austerity cuts, we will have more parks in declining condition in 2020 than we did in 1998. That is a terrible indictment of what government policy is doing to parks.’

Layton-Jones cited cuts of more than 40%, which have contributed to a reduction in numbers of staff for maintenance and management, and said the current situation is unsustainable. ‘We cannot keep doing more for less. Parks are embarking on a catastrophic spiral of decline which must be stopped.’

Among the recommendations of the report are:

  • that park maintenance be part of the statutory duties of local authorities;
  • baseline funding for all parks;
  • tax-raising powers for local authorities to fund parks; and
  • recognition that there is no alternative to local authority ownership and management of parks

Download the full Garden Trust report.

Broadly speaking, the Landscape Institute agrees with the points made in the Garden Trust report. The wider point around the lack of national leadership particularly resonates with the point made in the LI response to the CLG parks inquiry. And while there is a marked difference in the upkeep of public parks with and without substantial Lottery funding, the HLF cannot be seen as a ‘silver bullet’. The issue is with lack of local authority funding, which the HLF can and should not be expected to replace.

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