According To Hewson ... New ideas needed to avoid charging park users

Would you pay to use a park? It's an odd question, I know, but it may well happen as parks budgets continue to be slashed and cash-strapped local authorities look elsewhere for funding.

Apparently, it could take the form of an entrance fee and/or a subscription, whereby "members" are offered "preferential" access for concerts and the like. Alternatively, it may be the renting out of space for business use or kids' parties.

I am always wary of the word "preferential" because not everyone can afford preferential - and it's usually those who need it most, whatever it happens to be. In this case, it's to use some green space for which you have already paid. It's to get some peace and quiet, fresh air and exercise - in short, all the stuff we're told is good and necessary for us.

I suppose it is best not to rush to judgment on these ideas, for councils are indeed short of cash and seemingly under little pressure by way of statutory obligation to maintain our parks.

Apparently, some of our earliest green spaces - for example, the Derby Arboretum, which was created privately in 1840 for public use - required an entrance fee to be paid for part of the week. Others followed suit, including Victoria Park in east London.

The concept of charging folk to use their local park fills me with horror but there are some 27,000 public parks in Britain to care for and, according to a Heritage Lottery Fund survey last year, some 86 per cent of parks managers have seen their budgets cut in recent years.

So I guess the reality is that new ideas for new money must be found or further budget cuts will ensue. With this, more gates and toilets will be locked while litter accumulates and vandalism spreads as trees decline, bedding displays suffer and the grass continues to grow, and even more jobs will disappear - and nobody wants any of that to happen.

Andrew Hewson is a freelance writer and columnist

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