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Sowing the Seeds for Success: The case for investing in our local parks

Sowing the Seeds for Success: The case for investing in our local parks

A new report, ‘The State of the UK Public Parks’, published by APSE using data from CFP, finds that from 2010 onwards parks budgets have reduced by £690 million, leading to industry calls to stem this decline and leverage new investment in these valuable local community assets. With local councils responsible for managing 85% of the UK’s urban parks, the past decade of austerity has delivered sharp cuts to parks repairs and maintenance budgets.

Paul O’Brien, APSE Chief Executive said, “Whilst our report reflects on initiatives to stimulate parks, we find that continued austerity measures have not been ameliorated by central government support, which has amounted to sporadic and small-scale grants to support initiatives such as ‘pocket parks’ and small renovation projects.

O’Brien continued, “In many cases, funding can only be accessed by costly and inefficient bidding systems, which take little account of local need. As a consequence, the financing of urban parks has continued to be woefully inadequate for local authorities”

The report authors found that the impact of the COVID-19 health pandemic has created further challenges for UK parks. At the very point that parks became the lifeline for local communities during lockdown and travel restrictions, the ability to raise income from activities such as cafes, sports pitch hire and events was effectively stopped by public health restrictions. This income had become a lifeline to parks during the age of austerity, to meet the gaps in local budgets. Parks have therefore faced a double whammy; the loss of income but at the very point when footfall in parks has massively increased, placing additional budgetary pressures to clean, and maintain, our parks for the benefit of local communities

The report finds that once again the level of funding for parks will not meet the needs of local communities, and yet parks could be regarded as a ‘spend to save’ investment initiative, meeting the outcomes of many public policy objectives. Parks can offer: -

  • A means to support the levelling up agenda, through the development of new parks to address the often-unequal outcomes in some of the poorest communities, when it comes to accessing green space.
  • A means to support climate change action in both mitigation, in capturing carbon and enhancing biodiversity, and in amelioration, as part of action plans on flood defences, heat protection and air quality.  
  • A means to secure the future green skills within the UK. Our research found that parks are at risk of becoming de-professionalised because of a failure to recognise the key skills needed for parks and the need for career pathways to ensure the future of the parks workforce.
  • A means to engage communities in volunteering; the pandemic decreased volunteer capacity due to self-isolation and public health regulations but parks offer a golden opportunity to engage young and old alike, and all within our communities to take pride and care in their local environment and enhance inclusion.       

The report does show some glimmers of hope with some local authorities expecting the quality of their parks and associated budgets likely to increase. However the majority of councils are still facing the threat of static or declining standards and further budget reductions, coupled with increasing demands for space for new developments. Moreover, the issues of inequality, which government states it wishes to address, poses a further conundrum. Not only does the report find problems in maintaining existing parks, but there is a clear need to create more parks in areas of need in order to level up the distribution of parks across the UK. 

In conclusion Paul O’Brien said, “Whilst the Government has stated as a key element of its 25-year Environment Plan is that it wishes to  leave the environment in a better state than we inherited, I would suggest that one way we can help to achieve this is  through the proper funding of one of the most treasured community facilities, our local parks”.

 

Ends

The full report can be downloaded using this link. 

 

Promoting excellence in public services

APSE (Association for Public Service Excellence) is a not for profit unincorporated association working with over 300 councils throughout the UK. Promoting excellence in public services, APSE is the foremost specialist in local authority frontline services, hosting a network for frontline service providers in areas such as waste and refuse collection, parks and environmental services, cemeteries and crematorium, environmental health, leisure, school meals, cleaning, housing and building maintenance.

 

 

 

 

 

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