Keep fighting to save green space

In our report on key strategies recommended for green space managers negotiating budget cuts and restructured services, the chief executive of parks charity GreenSpace warns against the dangers of giving up the fight: "Inevitably people will say, 'Oh, it doesn't matter, we'll still get cut'. But with the right approach the cuts won't be so hard."

The same remains stubbornly true at a wider political level, where despite some seemingly overwhelming challenges, there have been victories too - the partial rethink on PlayBuilder scheme cuts is one example. As we noted then, such victories should remind us that there is always everything to play for.

We should keep this at the forefront of our minds as the debate over the degree to which volunteers can plug gaps in local authority green space funds continues. Most recently, Wesley Kerr - chairman of the Heritage Lottery Fund’s London Committee - has called for members of gardening charities and "famous gardens" to take on local parks. When delivered by a friend of parks, the argument can sound compelling - particularly when highlighting the four million members of the RHS, National Trust and English Heritage he believes could be mobilised.

But the key problems remain. Parks teams are already ahead of the game when it comes to developing friends groups and they know just how much support volunteers require from them. Without professional input, effective community work simply would not exist. Then there is the huge step from helping out to managing. "You can't systematically and continuously manage vital public services on a voluntary basis," says David Morris of friends group umbrella body National Federation of Parks & Green Space.

Pointing to the National Trust model doesn't help either. As parks consultant Ken McAnespie has pointed out, when you consider the funds required to run the charity including its 450 professionally trained gardeners without whom its volunteer army couldn't do what they do, the cost per user of an National Trust garden come out higher than any public park in Britain.

So it is back to politics at local and national level. Let us remember how our parks were built. In the capital's case, by the political arguments being won on the need for them and laws being passed to enable their creation and maintenance. Now, if we could get those four million garden lovers and charity members to push for councillors to back green space, we could be on to something.


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