Parks and green spaces in UK towns and cities are in danger of falling further into neglect unless the government shows leadership to safeguard their future, a coalition of park professionals and researchers has warned.
In a call to action, they highlight the need for ministers to work with the sector to develop a ‘sustainable parks policy’ at a time when park budgets are under increasing strain. At the moment, they say, councils are under no legal obligation to maintain parks, and in times of squeezed spending, park budgets have been targeted for cutbacks.
The coalition – which includes the community charity Groundwork, park managers and academics – says although there is scope for local authorities to run parks in partnership with charities, residents’ groups and private enterprise, the reality is that many parks have to rely on council funding.
Dr Anna Barker from the University of Leeds’ Future Prospects of Urban Parks project said:
“MPs reported earlier in the year that parks are at a tipping point. There needs to be an urgent look at how parks can be put on a sustainable footing.
“This is not something government can fix on its own but there needs to be leadership from Whitehall. One way of doing that is to establish a national agency which would work with park managers and the public to ensure the parks legacy is sustained for future generations.”
An audit of the state of the nation’s parks published by the Heritage Lottery Fund found a declining number of park managers who reported that their parks were in a good condition, from just under 60% in 2014 to 53% last year.
Dr Barker said:
“Parks and green spaces are much valued community resources but they are under considerable financial pressure. Park managers have being doing more with less – but there is a limit to how far that approach can go.
“Since the Victorian era, parks have provided beneficial spaces set apart from the surrounding, rapidly developing city. Interestingly, people still hold quite positive expectations for the future of parks that they are going to be there long term and free to access.’
The coalition argues that while money is an issue for the maintenance of parks, the challenges they face also relate to the pressures of urban development, unequal access to quality green space and competing demands for their use.
The University of Leeds organised a national conference in Westminster on 13 July to consider the future of the UK’s parks, bringing together policymakers, professionals operating in the parks and grounds maintenance sectors and researchers to discuss ways forward for public parks and opportunities for maximising their diverse benefits to society, including enhancing health and well-being.
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