Betts' reselection boosts inquiry chance

Parks experts say re-election of Clive Betts as chairman of communities committee makes inquiry 'a realistic possibility'.

Betts: reselected as chairman - image: DCLG
Betts: reselected as chairman - image: DCLG

An inquiry into parks is now a real possibility thanks to the re-election of Labour's Clive Betts on 18 June as chairman of the House of Commons Communities and Local Government (CLG) committee, parks experts say.

Under Betts' chairmanship in March, the outgoing committee called for a parliamentary inquiry into parks funding - a key tenet of The Parks Alliance's manifesto.

Alliance chairman Mark Camley said the group welcomes Betts' reappointment. "We were encouraged by the committee's response to our proposal for a parliamentary inquiry and we hope that his reselection will provide continuity on this," he added.

Dr Sid Sullivan, also of The Parks Alliance, said evidence is mounting over the "absolute necessity" of parks to urban society. With Betts heading the committee, Sullivan said he is "optimistic that an inquiry is now a realistic possibility". He expects such an inquiry would scrutinise previous reports and their results before considering the needs of today's society as well as the impact of funding cuts.

Parks offer a cost-effective way for the Government to meet health and community policy targets, added Sullivan. "I would also hope that the very strong and diverse evidence base will be examined and that the impacts of parks, in as diverse ways as health, well-being and their contribution to Government priorities, will lead to a reappraisal of their value."

Landscape consultant and parks expert Peter Neal said with austerity continuing, the committee must keep pushing for the inquiry to go ahead. "This will help focus attention on what the National Trust described as a 'silent crisis' unfolding for parks in the closing report of the last committee. It will also help to protect the considerable investment parks have had in recent years.

"Clive Betts should be well placed to lead this review for he will understand his Sheffield constituency, as with many other places, is facing intense pressure on funding parks services. Furthermore, Sheffield is one of the Nesta Rethinking Parks pilot projects looking to develop new business models to fund parks into the future."

He added: "Drawing on evidence from such programmes, alongside wider national and international funding models, should be a central and valuable part of the inquiry's remit."

March recommendations - Merit in conducting parks inquiry

In March the outgoing CLG committee, headed by Clive Betts, made the following recommendations to its successors:

"As financial pressures on local authorities increase, they are likely to place their focus on statutory services, with discretionary services such as parks being increasingly squeezed. We received written evidence from The Parks Alliance suggesting there was 'now a case for scrutinising the value of parks and their role in an increasingly urban nation alongside the challenges they face and the role of Government'.

"It referred to the findings of a recent report into parks by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which warned that the recent renaissance in parks was under threat. This view was echoed in correspondence we received from the National Trust.

"We agree that there might be merit in our successors conducting an inquiry into parks. Amongst other matters, such an inquiry could consider how to secure future funding for parks at a time when local authorities find themselves under increasing financial pressure."

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