Lottery talks favour Parks for People plans

The Big Lottery Fund (BIG) is in discussions with the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) about a return to joint-funding the Parks for People programme, HW has learned.

Beacon Park awarded £3.9m from Parks for People: Image: Lichfield District Council
Beacon Park awarded £3.9m from Parks for People: Image: Lichfield District Council

Although Parks for People schemes are still being financed through the joint programme as final approvals are given, BIG's involvement ended last April.

This means that £20m a year is being funnelled into Parks for People, down from around £50m a year with BIG's involvement. According to insiders, BIG has been "very pleased" with the results of Parks for People.

HLF head of landscape and natural heritage Drew Bennellick, who oversees the scheme, said: "There are discussions ongoing, but BIG needs to make some decisions. BIG has been very pleased with the results it has had, but there are lots of things it needs to consider as to how it might work to get involved again. It's down to how it wants to spend its money."

With some decisions pending on stage 2 applications from last year, another 12 parks are expected to be funded through the joint programme. But since BIG left the scheme, the HLF has introduced a new method of application that is competitive at both stages.

BIG representative Helen Harch told HW: "BIG is looking at all sorts of new programmes and (Parks for People) is being considered."

The scheme had its beginnings in the HLF's Urban Parks Programme, which was run by consultant Stewart Harding from 1996 to 2000 and awarded around £185m among 200 parks. From 2000 to 2006, £120m was awarded through the Public Parks initiative, before BIG came on board and Parks for People was set up.

Harding said: "From BIG's point of view it has had good feedback. It pledged money for three years, but probably no-one thought about what would happen after that."

He added that the big issue would be whether local authorities were able to pledge match funding for restoration schemes. For example, Victoria Park in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets was awarded £4.5m from Parks for People last month but must find another £7.5m to fund its £12m restoration project.

"Local authorities around the Olympic site are able to get money, but everywhere else is having budget cuts, so where are they going to find the funding?" asked Harding.

Parks consultant Alan Barber agreed there were "dangers", but added: "I would hope that the matching requirement can be tapered according to need and ability to raise funds."

GreenSpace general and business development manager Dave Tibbatts said: "Parks schemes are the epitome of good value. They are universally popular.

"An obvious and public commitment from the lottery at this stage could help close the gap in parks funding and encourage local authorities not to go down the route of budget cuts."

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