House of Commons, Communities and Local Government Committee have just published their report, ‘Public parks’, looking at 3 key questions: why parks matter, what challenges are facing the parks sector, and how to secure a sustainable future for parks.
The Committee acknowledges the benefits offered by the UK’s parks and green spaces –
“…. treasured assets and are often central to the lives of their communities. They provide opportunities for leisure, relaxation and exercise, but are also fundamental to community cohesion, physical and mental health and wellbeing, biodiversity, climate change mitigation, and local economic growth. These benefits have long been recognised, but within a context of budget reductions and tightening financial circumstances it is increasingly important that we find ways to quantify the wider value of parks in order to access new sources of funding and target investment in areas of greatest impact.”
The report then defines some of the challenges faced –
” As shared community assets, they must serve many different purposes, and be able to respond to the different and sometimes clashing needs of local communities. They must compete with other services for investment to secure their short and long term sustainability. Distribution of parks is unequal across the country, with many deprived communities struggling to access the benefits which green spaces can provide. Planning policy, particularly as a result of pressures to increase housing supply, may not always give enough priority to parks and green spaces, or to other elements of our green infrastructure.”
The Committee notes that contribution played by local communities through friends’ organisations, volunteers, or other community groups – welcoming the contributions such groups make, and that the time and efforts given to their local parks should not be overlooked; but they cannot be solely responsibility for resolving the challenges parks face. They recognise that innovation in management models and funding sources are required for the sustainable future funding of parks. The report contains evidence from a wide range of contributors who described alternative funding sources and management models, and the Committee urge the Minister, the Local Government Association, and local authorities to consider these.
The report welcomes Andrew Percy MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Department for Communities and Local Government’s commitment to establishing a cross-departmental group to coordinate and lead at a national level .The Committee call on the Minister, “To set out the details of how this group will operate, and how it will work with stakeholders from across the parks sector to deliver a sustainable future for our parks and green spaces.”
Andrew Percy MP – in his evidence:
“I am keen to bring people together across Government and across the sector, in order to share best practice and to consider the recommendations of this Committee. I want to look at the alternatives to a statutory duty. Neither of those things has happened up to now. [ … ] I want to be that champion across Government and bring Government Departments together. [ … ] I am keen to collect and receive the examples of best practice and make sure that we spread them across the network.”
The Committee considered calls for a statutory duty on local authorities to provide and maintain parks and recognises that reductions in local authority budgets may disproportionately disadvantage discretionary services, such as parks. However, they decided that such a statutory duty, which could be burdensome and complex, would achieve the outcomes intended. The Committee recommend that:
“The Minister publishes guidance to local authorities that they work collaboratively with Health and Wellbeing Boards to prepare and publish joint parks and green space strategies that articulate the contribution of parks to wider local authority objectives, and set out how parks will be managed to maximise such contributions.”
The Committee acknowledges that, “Parks and green spaces matter“, by contributing to important strategic objectives, such as climate change mitigation, public health and community integration. However failure to match their value and the contribution they make with the resources they need to be sustained could have severe consequences. The Committee intends to return to the issue of parks before the end of this Parliament to assess what progress has been made whilst calling on those who care about parks to maintain momentum, to continue to hold local and national government to account, and to carry on their work to support, promote and enhance our parks and green spaces.