Interview - Dave Morris, vice chairman, National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces

Dave Morris does not, cannot and will not accept that the cuts to parks and green space budgets following the comprehensive spending review are a done deal.

Dave Morris, vice chairman, National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces - image: HW
Dave Morris, vice chairman, National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces - image: HW

The vice-chairman of the National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces warns naysayers he is one from a movement of potentially millions of people. "These cuts are not an act of god but an act of Government, and something that's Government-driven can be changed by public opinion on a mass scale," he explains. "This is a wealthy country, but the Government has chosen to bail out the banks that caused the financial crisis by stealing resources off the public sector."

What was a loose gathering of friends groups has been melded into a formidable force whose time has come, he believes. Not since the 1980s have public services seen such an attack. Back then there were hardly any friends groups to protect green spaces, he says.

"This time we have a fast-growing, increasingly confident movement of friends groups to protect different green spaces and the needs of their communities," says Morris of the 2,000 or so groups from around the country.

Morris has spent 35 years campaigning on the environment but plays down his role as one of the "McLibel Two", who triggered the longest court action in English history. It saw off McDonald's, one of the world's biggest corporations, with a pamphlet critical of the fast-food chain. This time, Morris insists, it is not a one-man show, but a "nascent, organic, growing local movement".

And there lies the challenge: "It's one thing to be hands-on in your own local patch, but we have to try to translate that local concern to a countrywide force, and that takes time. This is an organic, grass-roots movement that's finding its potential and the mechanisms for bringing out all that potential.

"Yes, volunteer groups want to help manage parks. But the Government strategy of claiming it wants to put aspects of public services into community hands is very cynical propaganda. They know full well you can't systematically and continuously manage vital public services on a voluntary basis. It's absolute nonsense. So they do it under the cover of community empowerment.

"We don't want to be manipulated to that end. Although friends groups do want to be more involved in aspects of management, it is very much down to individual groups and parks and the local issues they have. If there's a derelict building that could become a community space, who will make it happen if councils are starved of cash?"

If this strikes a beleaguered note, forget it. "Friends groups are, by their nature, optimists and realists - optimistic because they want to make a real difference, realistic because they know they can make a real difference. The challenge, when you're faced with a Government-driven massive cuts programme, is to respond on a national scale."

Until, that is, something happens on an international scale such as the implosion of Ireland's finances. "We can see two things happening internationally. Ireland is facing horrendous cuts to public services to bail out the banks, which is a failure. In Greece, France and Spain we have seen a huge mobilisation of people demonstrating and protesting.

"Are we going to go down the Ireland route, which has been a disaster, or should we do as they do in mainland Europe and say: 'This is not acceptable'? I think doing nothing is not an option."

Morris does not necessarily suggest that friends groups should take to the streets. A first step is to grasp this "key phase" of linking up, developing networks and creating a national movement that speaks out. "But if the Government won't listen we would have to consider what kind of activities and tactics are likely to be successful. It's more effective for millions of people to take action than thousands."

This talk of mass national movements is tempered with an emphasis on the grassroots level of community, though. "I'm not a chief executive shuffling bureaucracy in an office. I'm out there in Lordship Rec, Tottenham, updating the noticeboard. It's up to us as friends groups to mobilise, speak out, lobby and insist on adequate resources and oppose these dreadful cuts."

CV
2001: Helps start Friends' of Lordship Rec, Tottenham
2002: Haringey Friends' of Parks Forum starts
2007: Decision to launch National Open Spaces Forum
2010: Changes name to National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces,
with Morris as vice-chairman


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