Today, the Heritage Lottery Fund has published State of UK Public Parks 2016, its second report to comprehensively review the condition and management of the UK's public parks. Fields in Trust Chief Executive Helen Griffiths welcomes the report and makes the following observations:
Our parks, playgrounds and open spaces have something to offer to everyone and are used by the entire community from pre-school children through to retired adults. They 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. Fields in Trust’s own survey from 2015 indicated that nearly a quarter of respondents (24%) use their local park at least twice a week.
The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) State of UK Public Parks 2016 report published today reveals that 92% of park managers report cuts to their revenue budget over the past three years and 95% of park managers expect their revenue budget to be cut over the next three years.
Our parks and informal recreational spaces are facing increasingly challenged futures. There is no statutory duty to provide these facilities and, unlike sports pitches, there is no requirement to consult with local planning authorities about their loss. Yet numerous research studies have demonstrated the health impact of access to green space in encouraging physical exercise, promoting mental wellbeing, and providing a stress-free space to relax. In addition to the health benefits, public open spaces are a place for neighbours to come together for events and activities - assisting community cohesion and reducing isolation.
We need to 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.
We agree with the findings of the HLF report that "continued local authority leadership is needed. As owners of most public parks and green spaces, councils have a pivotal role in ensuring the continued provision of quality parks". Some local authorities understand the value of their outdoor space, Edinburgh City Council has estimated that for every £1 spent on their green infrastructure around £12 of social, economic and environmental benefits are delivered through the community use of parks and green spaces. Earlier this year Glasgow City Council dedicated 27 sites across the city with Fields in Trust - securing forever these playgrounds and parks as recreational space - The City Council's Open Spaces Strategy recognises the health, well-being and play benefits green space provides and have committed to its upkeep forever.
We can also learn from Wales where a ground breaking piece of legislation in the Welsh Assembly, The Well-being of Future Generations Act (Wales) 2015, requires public bodies to consider long-term impacts of decisions they take and ensure communities are supported sustainably. Protecting outdoor recreational space means it will remain available for future generations to enjoy, forever.
Parks and open spaces contribute to the physical and mental health and well-being of our communities but are undervalued and underfunded. If we are genuinely going to deliver the government’s new strategy for an "Active Nation" the crucial role of parks and open spaces needs to be prioritised. As well as providing our future Olympic champions with their first places to practice, parks and open spaces provide opportunities for people who do not identify as natural constituents of sport to participate in informal activities. We need to ensure funding for parks and green space is commensurate with their positive impact on communities.
Helen Griffiths is Fields in Trust's Chief Executive and is an experienced and knowledgeable commentator on issues related to parks, playing fields and recreational spaces. Follow Helen on Twitter @hegriffiths.
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