Parks and open spaces are arguably the most universal of all public services. They are used by the entire community from pre-school children through to retired adults. Green space is a defining part of our local landscapes and these community spaces are places to enjoy life experiences, whether that's reaching a personal sporting milestone, teaching grandchildren to cycle, engaging with nature, having a first kiss or simply walking a much loved dog. A Fields in Trust survey from 2015 indicated that nearly a quarter of respondents (24%) use their local park at least twice a week.
Yet unlike education or libraries, parks are a discretionary service. Councils have no statutory duty to provide these facilities. Unlike formal sports facilities there is not the same requirement to consult with local planning authorities about their disposal and no national audit of green space is kept making it difficult to track the losses of these vital assets. Investment on parks has decreased and maintenance and upkeep has been reduced; local authority spending on open spaces fell by 14% between 2010 and 2014.
The Heritage Lottery Fund State of UK Public Parks 2016 report published recently reveals that many councils are facing tough decisions over funding and our informal recreational spaces are facing increasingly challenged futures.
In the face of growing concerns the Department of Communities and Local Government Committee are to hold a Parliamentary Inquiry into the funding of parks. Fields in Trust warmly welcomed this review and we – along with other partner organisations – have submitted our analysis and recommendations.
In summary our submission calls for a change the way public green space is conceived, not as a drain on spending that requires a considerable amount of money to maintain - but rather as an asset which can be deployed to achieve longer term savings and happier healthier more connected communities.
Specifically we recommend:
- That government make available an open data map of all UK green space updated and maintained so all stakeholders can assess the distribution of public recreation space and monitor future changes.
- Fields in Trust recommend that the Inquiry should support statutory provision of outdoor green spaces with a sufficient area for play, sport and recreation maintained to an agreed standard and available to all communities.
- Whilst we support the government’s cross-departmental Strategy for an Active Nation the crucial role of parks and open spaces must be prioritised if the aims are to be met we call for a re-valuing of our public green spaces to ensure funding for parks is commensurate with their positive impact on communities.
Fields in Trust Chief Executive Helen Griffiths spoke on BBC Radio 5 live on the morning of our submission of evidence. Hear what she said:
The committee will review all the evidence and present its findings in a few months time. We will be following developments – but in the meantime we want to celebrate our much loved outdoor spaces and have begun a search to find the UK’s Best Park through a public vote we want to hear why you #LoveYourLocalPark! It might be that your neighbourhood playground is a hive of activity for children, a nature reserve provides a stress-free space to relax, or your local park is great for a Sunday afternoon stroll. This is your chance to help your favourite space gain the recognition it deserves. Nominate online.
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