Inquiry committee chair urges those "with hands-on experience" of parks to give evidence

The MP who will chair the forthcoming House of Commons parks inquiry has urged as many parks professionals to contribute as possible - and to encourage parks users to do the same.

Everyone is encouraged to submit evidence to the parks inquiry. Picture HW
Everyone is encouraged to submit evidence to the parks inquiry. Picture HW

Clive Betts, MP for Sheffield South East, will oversee the Communities and Local Government Select Committee inquiry into public parks, launched in July, following a determined campaign by The Parks Alliance and others and the Heritage Lottery Fund's 2014 report which warned parks were on the brink of serious decline or disposal due to funding cuts.

The inquiry will focus on the impact of reduced local authority budgets on green spaces, consider concerns that their existence is under threat and look at how parks should be supported now and in the future.

But Betts said it was important to get a broad view of how people use parks to properly consider the issues.

He said he wanted everyone to submit their thoughts on parks to the inquiry, from children and adult park users to parks staff, friends groups, community stakeholders and people who do not use parks at all.

And he wanted to assure people that most people who helped select committees with either written evidence or as witnesses were not the high-profile figures who are often seen on television news.

"We’re hoping people respond in large numbers with their written evidence. We’re looking for people with hands-on experience of what’s happening in parks and open spaces. "

He added that said that submissions would also help committee members decide where they should go for site visits and see the state of parks for themselves.

"We are going to get out there and reach other people. Parks users are very important to us. We want to know what they are seeing and what they want to see. Schools and young people are an important part of that."

Betts has pledged that he will write to all the schools in his constituency trying to get people engaged in the process that are not usually. The 75 House of Commons Education Service's Teacher Ambassadors have also been asked to spread the word.

"If people don’t use parks, we want to know why they don’t use them," he added.

The committee also plans to hold a workshop with friends groups.

People have until 30 September to submit written evidence to the inquiry, through an online form on the Parliament website, which also clearly sets out guidance for how people should go about it.

Once submitted they become public documents and most written evidence is published online.

However, those who do not want their submission to be published can state this clearly on their submission and it will be taken into account.

People who want to include private or confidential information can contact the clerk of the committee to discuss this.

Betts said it was a waste of time to submit 40 or 50-page documents because the committee would not have time to read them but beyond following the guidelines he said people should not worry too much about the format.

"It’s whatever people want to say," he said.

As well as official submissions, the committee is organising an online survey and encouraging comments on Twitter using the #myparkmatters hashtag.

Betts pointed out that committee members did not always speak to witnesses in the formal setting of the committee room in the Hoses of Parliament, which some people might find intimidating.

"If young people for example don’t feel up to sitting behind a desk we go and have an informal chat with them. It’s very useful," he said.  

The committee will also be keen to question parks workers when on site visits.

In July parks consultant David Lambert, who advised on the last parks inquiry in 1999 told Horticulture Week that the inquiry must tell the "hidden stories" of the damage budget cuts have wrought on specific local parks to have the greatest impact.

The last parks inquiry was in 1999. 

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