Birmingham parks face 20% budget cut in 2017/18

Birmingham is in line to lose a further fifth of its parks budget in the next financial year with higher cuts each financial year until 2021 - as 30 organisations sign a letter calling the cuts a false economy.

Handsworth Park, Birmingham
Handsworth Park, Birmingham

Birmingham City Council has proposed new cuts of £50.6 million for 2017/18, in addition to the £27.8 million expected, in its budget proposal, on which it is currently consulting with residents.

As a department, Parks and Nature Conservation stands to lose £1.8m of this during 2017/18 in the current proposal, with £2.4m to be cut in each of the following three financial years.

It plans to cut park keeper and ranger numbers, reduce grass cutting in parks and public areas, cut the number of shrubs and flower beds in parks and on roads and stop providing planters and baskets in the city centre and other areas, unless funding can be found from other sources.

The cuts follow around £590m already lost across the council since 2010. Deputy leader councillor Ian Ward said the authority was "now at the point where we have no other option but to propose significant reductions to our front-line services."

Vice chair of the West Midlands Parks Forum, Chris Worman called the proposed cut "very disturbing news".

"They’ve already taken a number of cuts already and have an already reduced budget. This will cut into the core of the service. I think they will really struggle. I think it will be a major detrimental effect on the city.

In a letter to local paper, the Birmingham Post, 30 signatories from organisations including the National Federation of City Farms and Gardens, The Wildlife Trust for Birmingham and the Black Country, Friends’ groups and Birmingham Open Spaces Forum warned the cuts would "damage our communities, increase the need for future spending on health and reduce investment in our city in addition to the inevitable decline in the quality of our green spaces for people and reduced habitat for wildlife".

The letter, also published in full on sister paper The Birmingham Mail's website, also said continued good management of green spaces in the city was "fundamental to the sustainable economic growth of Birmingham" and that volunteers, who donate thousands of hours to help look after parks and green spaces in the city each year needed professional staff, equipment and infrastructure to continue their good work.

It added: "Birmingham’s parks and green spaces today are a source of our civic pride; they are the lungs of our city, a shared identity and the centre of many communities. We urge the council to rethink the immediate budget cuts to parks and green spaces."

Sarah Royal of the Birmingham Open Spaces Forum, who organised the letter with the local Wildlife Trust’s chief executive Georgia Stokes said the parks staff were already "drastically running around desperately trying to do a 10% cut" before finding it would be double than expected. The forum represents more than 120 community groups, including Friends’ groups, In Bloom groups and others interested in open space for a range of benefits, for example mental and physical health and improved life expectancy.

"The cuts are pretty drastic this year. The rangers look after the volunteers and some of the park keepers are also brilliant. Whenever we ask a community group what do you want to see in your park the top thing is they want a presence there."

She added that cuts to green space would "bring the whole city downhill" and would cost more in the long run bring back up to a reasonable standard.

Worman agreed. "It’s all a false economy. All it will do is put costs up elsewhere, whether it’s in the health service or because of an increase in anti-social behaviour. It will also impact Birmingham’s growth in tourism." He said visitors and businesses alike were attracted to attractive places and not investing in them would lead to less investment and spending in the city in the future.

The official consultation process which closes on January 18 is taking place here:

Ward added that the council will still spend £9m annually on services under the proposal currently out to public consultation.

"This will include approximately £3m on grass cutting in parks and on the highway, £3m on ensuring our parks are safe for visitors to use and further £3m on play areas, trees, shrubs, flower beds and management.

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