Britain's frontline green-space leaders met last week to look at how to tap into every possible funding stream and commercialise parks in the struggle to save their spaces.
Speakers at the No Going Back conference at Old Trafford football ground in Manchester heard how data gathering is crucial to winning the case for funding. Hosted by the Association for Public Service Excellence, the event focused on creating self-sustaining parks.
Consultant Sid Sullivan said what marked this century out from the last is data: "If you don't have three out of ten staff with data and statistical management skills you won't make the best of your data, which is vital if you are to evidence your strengths.
"This is a data-management century and that is the big difference between the 21st and the 20th century. You need evidence - for example, when you approach planners for money from the new Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) or the section 106 pot."
Every green-space leader should find out how much money is in their local-authority section 106 pot, urged Sullivan, who did a Government-funded audit and discovered that there is around 15 per cent of the money lying idle.
Likewise, every leader should draw up a wish list of projects for the CIL. When he asked the 50 delegates who had such a list, four raised their hands. But he added: "Although section 106 still exists, you can't bid for both - it's one or the other."
Nottingham City Council head of parks and open spaces Eddie Curry said his department would continue to tap into section 106 money, rather than the new levy, and would provide data evidence to planners to strengthen their case.
He agreed a list of projects with 19 ward councillors. They identified funding streams and supplied strategic evidence to support applications, said Curry, whose department demerged from street care around 2009. But it wasn't an "us-and-them scenario", he added.
"There was a lack of knowledge on the green agenda and too strong a focus on cleaning. We needed to refocus on training, skills and horticultural excellence. We now have a complementary set of services and work closely together."
Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council technical adviser Caroline Davies said her authority also split parks from street scene and "really saw the improvement across parks standards and quality". Data has been critical in shifting perceptions of parks.
"Parks are now classed as an asset just like schools. An asset-management plan across all green spaces helped even out boom-and-bust cycles of upkeep. An asset is more valuable if well maintained. We have robust data across all our sites."
Caroline Davies, technical adviser, Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council.