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: -
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”.