The decision, announced last week to the consternation of greenspace industry figures, means there is no longer a ringfenced fund for parks. This was £25m for England (£16.7m from HLF and £8.33m from Big Lottery Fund) and £3m in the devolved nations in 2017/18. In addition the HLF has invested money through its opens programmes to parks projects.
Instead the HLF is developing a new streamlined system of grants in the run-up to its new five-year funding framework, which starts in 2019, which means parks projects will need to compete with other heritage projects. There is also a cut in the funding available to heritage projects as a whole after the HLF’s income from the National Lottery drops from a projected £300m to £330m in 2017/18 to £290m in the forthcoming financial year.
The total amount of money available for HLF grants in the 2018/19 financial year will be in the region of £190m.
A HLF spokeswoman said the changes were partly in response to reduced Lottery income, as the HLF seeks "to make sure our reserves, commitments and income are aligned".
"We are top slicing part of our income to protect/ensure continuing investment in our existing commitments and to strengthen our reserves. We expect budgets to increase as a percentage of income over the next few years but it is too early at this stage to say what the National Lottery income will be," she said.
However the Government also wants to see change. The recently-published Tailored Review of HLF’s performance and the Mendoza Review of Museums in England both recommend new ways of working, including simplifying grant giving processes and operating more efficiently, getting the most value from National Lottery funding.
The HLF said that "with a smaller grants budget all areas of heritage are likely face more competition for investment but parks will not be disproportionately affected or subject to a limit".
The HLF has given more than £800m in grants to parks projects over the past two decades. And it is not the only sector affected. Other targeted grant schemes, including Townscape Heritage, Grants for Places of Worship and others are also getting the chop. The HLF said its decision comes after "some years of historically high investment".
The HLF is investing an extra £2m into the Rethinking Parks programme, along with other agencies and has pledged to continue to do "more work to help find sustainable futures for parks like Rethinking Parks". Expect more information to follow next year.
HLF head of landscape Drew Bennelick said application numbers were falling as far back as 2014, when he spoke at The Parks Alliance debate at IoG Saltex, probably due to "a lack of skilled resources in local authorities to develop and lead applications.
He added: "We also suspect it may be linked to a lack of capital for match funding and an unwillingness to enter in to a contract with HLF that may lead to increased maintenance costs."
Applicants will now need to learn a new grant system.
Parks consultant Dave Lambert of The Parks Agency, said the odds for park projects getting successful awards had lengthened with this decision but the main impact of the decision is political. "The signal will be received that parks aren’t a priority any longer, that the need isn’t there any longer, that parks are marginal, and that all the wider benefits to health, environment, social cohesion, don’t count for much.
"Parks will slip further down local authority agendas in the absence of what a £900m dedicated programme signifies. It also means that any recommendations from the Parks Action Group, or indeed the Select Committee when it revisits parks will have to be tempered by the huge hole that has appeared in potential funding sources for park projects."
He added: "The irony is that the need for capital funds to repair the effects of reduced maintenance resulting from austerity will be acute in a year or two’s time.