Parks sector urged to use election to lobby for parks as concerns triggered over potential inquiry response delay

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Image HW

"There’s an opportunity for parks to be part of the agenda. I’d seriously encourage everybody involved in parks to lobby their candidates on the importance of parks and the benefits parks bring," said Parks Alliance chairman Matthew Bradbury.

"The most important thing is that we use the opportunity to lobby and get parks on the agenda for constituencies across the country."

The Communities and Local Government select committee published its parks inquiry report in February and is currently waiting for the Government's response, which is due after two months. However it is not unusual for such a response to take longer to arrive.

A committee spokesman said that it was possible the response would come before the end of this Parliament but would not be made public until after the election – most likely June or July – due to election ‘purdah’, which will begin this weekend, now that MPs have voted for the election to go ahead by 522 votes to 13.

In the report the committee put much emphasis on the pledge made by parks minister Andrew Percy to establish a cross-departmental group to look at the parks issue, with several of the recommendations contained in the report referring to actions this group should take.

Percy, who was the first minister to claim ministerial responsibility for parks, is also the first Conservative MP returned since his constituency of  Brigg and Goole was created in 1997. He won his seat in both 2010 and 2015, and increased his majority in 2015 to 11,176, receiving 53% of the vote.  However, he may not return to the same job after the General Election, even if he is successfully re-elected.

Parks consultant and author of the two Heritage Lottery Fund State of UK Public Parks reports Peter Neal said: "Elections provide a welcome opportunity to drop difficult issues and park them and the concern is that the future of parks funding and management will just get kicked into the long grass.

"What we can hope for is that the wealth of ideas and information generated by the process will be used to shape some ambitious and constructive manifesto commitments – both nationally and locally.

"As the select committee clearly demonstrated, parks are politically potent issue for individuals and communities and the next government needs to work out how to safeguard their future throughout the UK during this decade of austerity.

Chairman of The Parks Alliance Matthew Bradbury agreed there was a risk that the inquiry, its recommendations and the response to them, would be slowed down. "That’s a big concern" he said.

But he added: "It’s easy to scaremonger. I’m hoping that whoever takes up the minister’s role in relation to parks will consider how best to implement the recommendations of the inquiry." He said he hoped the new Government would be more proactive on the parks issue in general.

Neal said it would be helpful if the Communities and Local Government Committee decided to carry over its commitment to return to the issue of parks before the end of the current Parliament into the next Parliament.

He added: "We hope that the new Government will take on the recommendations, and that the Government will commit to continue to have a parks minister, with a cross-departmental group.  The concern is that there will be more pressing issues.

"The State of UK Parks research found the tipping point for parks has been reached. If the Government doesn’t grasp the nettle in the near future, the costs of reversing considerable neglect of parks will be considerable."

Both Neal and Bradbury said the election provided an ideal opportunity to lobby for parks.

"There’s an opportunity for parks to be part of the agenda. I’d seriously encourage everybody involved in parks to lobby their candidates on the importance of parks and the benefits parks bring," Bradbury said.

"The most important thing is that we use the opportunity to lobby and get parks on the agenda for constituencies across the country."

Neal said that, alongside Brexit, austerity will be high on the agenda during campaigning, especially on a local level. "There’s a broader agenda than just a Brexit election, although that’s driving the election.

"There’s a great opportunity, especially on a local level to talk about green infrastructure, the environment and the investment in well-being that parks provide, that has to be a vote winner. It has been shown to be a topic of strong public support."


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