More cuts fuel parks services wipeout fear

Consultant fears that some local authorities will abandon parks services totally in 2014 as latest round of cuts emerge.

North York Moors: national park’s Government grant cut by a fifth - image: Shockthesenses.com
North York Moors: national park’s Government grant cut by a fifth - image: Shockthesenses.com

Some parks services are teetering on the brink of being abandoned in 2014, an industry leader has warned, as details of the latest round of cuts to parks budgets for next year emerge.

Parks consultant Dr Sid Sullivan spoke out as further deep cuts to services emerged, forcing local authorities to lay off yet more expert horticulturists, ditch floral displays and quit mowing regimes.

The latest include Luton Borough Council, which is set to lose more than £1.4m from its parks budget; Newcastle City Council, which is cutting £11m from neighbourhood services including parks; and Walsall Council, which is losing 13 park rangers in a £400,000 cut.

At Luton, councillors agreed last week to axe floral displays in the borough's parks, war memorials and the town centre, and reign back on mowing.

Council leader Hazel Simmons told local press that parks services would go from "gold to minimum standard" to shield core areas.

Green spaces friends group chair Paul Rodell said the cuts would manifest themselves in "litter-strewn, dog-faeces covered 10in-long uncut grass that nobody wants to see and that will suffer a lack of development for the foreseeable future".

Newcastle City Council is cutting £11m from its neighbourhood services as part of an overall £97m savings and parks will take a sizeable hit.

Director of neighbourhood services Nigel Hails said: "Levels of maintenance of our parks, grass cutting and landscaping activities will be reduced and some labour-intensive areas replaced. We will no longer provide a floral programme every year.

"We have invested in parks and won awards but what matters most is they are open, safe and well used. We will cut maintenance in some but still work with community groups and keep a number of high-quality parks across the city."

Walsall Council is expected to cut its total number of park rangers from 23 to 10 to accommodate a £400,000 budget chop and £300,000 saving from its merger with street cleaning.

This prompted Save Walsall's Green spaces & Countryside Services to question whether the "flabbergasting" cuts would allow for the ranger service to operate.

Sullivan said: "This will be the last year before the decision to stop services completely will be made. This latest round will mean there won't be enough left to take any more out and you won't have a service at all: this is the last year of cuts before services are disbanded."

He added that local authorities with savings, some of which are sitting on pots of more than £90m, should invest in parks, which can charge for services such as sports and events, rather than leave the funds to wither away in low-interest bank accounts.

"The critical mass of services that are left are unable to deliver," said Sullivan. "Local authorities are not just cutting them, they are killing them. Some think they can take another £1.7m or whatever out of the budget and survive. They can't."

- North York Moors National Park is having its Government grant slashed by more than a fifth to £4.3m, which marks a reduction of 35 per cent with inflation and the loss of other grants.

North York Moors Park Authority chief executive Andy Wilson said: "The whole public sector is being squeezed but national parks are facing cuts of 30 per cent. Few areas of the public sector are experiencing this level of cutbacks. I hope the Government ensures the legacy of national parks but there are no guarantees."

Make Parks a Priority - How you can help this HW campaign

Earlier this year, Horticulture Week launched a campaign to highlight the plight of parks services facing disproportionate budget cuts. As part of that initiative, an early day motion has been laid in Parliament calling for an inquiry.

Please write to your MP asking them to sign EDM 219, which calls for a Parliamentary inquiry into urban parks and highlights concerns over disproportionate local authority funding cuts.

When contacting your MP, you need to use the full name - EDM 219 Reduction in Funding for Urban Parks. For more information about the campaign or to download a template letter to send to your MP, see www.HorticultureWeek.co.uk/makeparksapriority or email kate.lowe@haymarket.com.

To identify and find out how to contact your local MP, see http://findyourmp.parliament.uk.


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