Parks crisis more acute in second HLF State of UK Public Parks Report

The Heritage Lottery Fund's (HLF) second parks report shows that parks are more used, more loved and more in danger from funding cuts than ever.

One example of parks experiencing 'decline and neglect'.  Image copyright Peter Neal
One example of parks experiencing 'decline and neglect'. Image copyright Peter Neal

Half of all local authorities are now considering selling or transferring management of their parks and green spaces to other organisations, according to the HLF State of UK Public Parks 2016, published today, up 5% since the first HLF report in 2014. The new research shows this is likely to increase by 59% over the next three years.

Over the past three years, 50% of local authorities have transferred outdoor sports facilities to community groups and 53% expect to continue to do this. 30 per cent are considering transferring parks to community groups.

But while the report found parks were now attracting more users, volunteers and fundraising activity, it found users were not as keen on taking responsibility for parks, or on paying fees to use them.

The report examines various revenue-raising models, partnerships and best practice in parks management and includes a number of case studies.

In common with its predecessor, State of UK Public Parks 2016 is written by parks consultant Peter Neal and pulls together all available reports, research and data collected on the subject since the last edition.

It follows a similar methodology, surveying local authority parks managers, park friends and user groups and the general public, allowing the HLF to track data and views over time.

This year there is also a parks trust survey, completed by 19 different independent organisations, which shows that parks trusts are weathering austerity better than those run by local authorities and others.

Serious concern expressed in 2014 is now even more marked. Over the past three years, 92% of park managers have seen cuts to their revenue budgets, six per cent more than 2014, and 95% of parks managers expect their budgets to be slashed further over the next three years.

Only 27% of park managers told researchers that their parks to have been improving over the past three years, down 14% from 2014. And the percentage of park managers who think their parks are in a good condition has dropped by 7% to 53% since 2014.

Chairman of The Parks Alliance Mark Camley said: "‘HLF’s findings that the recent renaissance in parks over last 20 years is now coming to an end is of great concern and should be a wakeup call for us. Local authorities, voluntary groups and contractors have done an excellent job of offsetting significant budget reductions by working inventively and collaboratively to find new solutions and are disguising the depth of the crisis."

More than £850m has been invested in more than 800 UK parks by National Lottery funds, the HLF and the Big Lottery Fund, over 20 years.

HLF chief executive Ros Kerslake said: "Put simply, parks are not a luxury.  They are essential to our increasingly busy urban lives and thanks to National Lottery players they’ve never been in such great shape.

"But these are financially tough times and if we are to successfully halt the on-set of decline in our parks and avoid wasting this investment, we need to come together now to find innovative and sustainable models of funding and maintaining these highly valued community spaces."

Landscape Institute president Merrick Denton-Thompson pointed out that his organisation had long campiagned on the importance of quality landscape and green space to public health and wellbeing.

"Quality green infrastructure helps society tackle critical issues from species loss, to social cohesion, climate-change and the needs of an ageing population. Today’s report again shows the peril that our parks are in but also how we need to think about what we want our parks to do in the future to meet new social demands."

As in 2014, the report makes a series of recommendations. For full analysis see the next issue of Horticulture Week on 16 September.

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