Survey finds 75% want parks to be statutory duty

A total of 70 per cent of respondents to a new poll have said that 'privatising' parks is unacceptable and 75 per cent believe parks should be a statutory duty for local authorities.

One of the pictures of neglected parks in the 2016 HLF report. Image: Peter Neal
One of the pictures of neglected parks in the 2016 HLF report. Image: Peter Neal

Campaign group We Own It commissioned Survation to conduct the survey of 1,013 adults over 18 as the deadline approaches for submissions to the Communities and Local Government Parliamentary select committee’s inquiry on parks. People have until Friday to submit evidence and parks users can also fill out an online survey.

The Survation survey was weighted to be as representative as possible of the UK population as a whole, using age, gender, region, household income, 2015 General Election vote and the 2016 EU Referendum vote.

The respondents were asked their response to two statements and their negatives: ‘Privatisation of parks is an acceptable way to raise revenue for councils’ and ‘Councils should have a statutory duty to provide public parks’.

The 2016 Heritage Lottery Fund State of UK Public Parks report found that 59 per cent of local authorities were considering disposing or transferring management or ownership of green spaces in the next three years, up from 45 per cent in 2013 when the last HLF research was conducted.

In 2016, nearly 50 per cent of local authorities had disposed of or transferred the management or ownership of some of their green spaces in the past three years.

On parks and gardens specifically only one respondent (2.4 per cent) had sold an entire site but 22 per cent of respondents had sold part of a park or garden in the previous three years.

London Councils has also warned of local authority budget cuts leading to a "slide towards privately-run parks" by 2020.

Director of We Own It Cat Hobbs said: "The idea of privatising parks is hugely unpopular and it should be completely ruled out by government and councils. Public parks are precious green spaces that belong to all of us - but cuts could mean a slippery slope towards sell-offs. There should be a new legal duty to protect parks for the future."

It is an argument which has been repeatedly and tirelessly pursued by chair of the National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces Dave Morris for some years.

He said: "Our public green spaces are treasured and essential resources for all communities and for all sections of our communities, as underlined by the rise over the last 15 years of the inspirational movement of many thousands of local green space Friends’ groups.

"Rather than accept the deepening underfunding crisis we call on the public to demand these vital spaces become a statutory service to ensure they are well managed and secure for current and future generations to enjoy."

The Heritage Lottery Fund report shows that parks are used by more than 37 million people each year and that 79 per cent of the public support investing in parks, but cuts mean they could be facing 'decline and neglect'.

At the time of writing, 214,376 people have also signed a 38 Degrees petition which also calls for parks to be made a statutory duty.

Sector champion The Parks Alliance, however, does not believe that making parks a statutory service is the answer to the parks funding crisis, since statutory services are also under severe pressure due to budget cuts.

Rather it believes parks should be properly funded and their role as cost-efficient places to give urban dwellers access to nature and green space, to improve and maintain physical and mental health, to provide important environmental benefits including urban cooling and flood alleviation and to be a social hub for the community, should be properly recognised.

Parks Alliance chair Mark Camley said: "Parks play a vital role in providing spaces for children to play, and adults to exercise, take part in sport or just relax. With increasing urbanisation they provide a vital free service for families. As well as retaining them, we need to ensure that they are properly maintained and funded because no-one benefits from a poor quality park that doesn't feel safe."

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