Parks event aims to demystify political parties' approach to green space

A conference to be held next week promises to unpick the main political parties' position on parks and green spaces - and explore how the sector is adapting to austerity and public health needs in preparation for the next five years

The second conference by sector organisation Green Connect features speakers from influential think-tank Policy Exchange, Locality, TCV, Love Parks at Keep Britain Tidy and parks teams with innovative ideas from across the South West.

Policy Exchange environment and energy research fellow Katherine Drayson, who authored last year’s Policy Exchange Green Society report, said: "It’s very difficult to say what the parties are going to commit to, there are so many other services competing for attention. But I think they’re interested in green space.

"After the election it's going to be difficult but there are also some real opportunities as well. One thing the political parties agree on is the localism agenda."

Nick Clegg announced that the Ordnance Survey would compile and release data to enable the creation of a new map of every publicly accessible green space in England and Wales and will allow anyone with access to the internet to find the location of their nearest park instantly.

She pointed to Coalition’s decision to back the call for a green space map outlined in a previous Policy Exchange publication, the 2013 Park Land report – which came up with a concept design called Markmypark.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced that the Ordnance Survey would compile and release data to enable the creation of such a map in September 2014 and followed it up with an allowance in the Autumn Statement.

"That’s a small step but it’s a really important one. It’s the basis for all community action," Drayson said.

Labour is also looking at localism with Jon Cruddas exploring it as the party’s policy review coordinator.

Drayson said it was "important that there’s a positive message coming out about parks how important they are", with negative messages unlikely to stir community action on a national level.

Friends groups set up to fight council cuts to parks can establish an adversarial relationship with the local authority which can last years, she said.  

Drayson will talk more about some of the projects and ideas featured in her report, published in August.

These include council tax rebates for volunteers, parks improvement districts and community cashback, where the council pays a volunteer group to look after a small green space the amount it would have paid a contractor and the profits are put back into the green space, something which she said can be "very rewarding for communities".

The conference is held at Hestercombe Gardens near Taunton on 15 April and costs £85, including a tour with the head gardener.

Download the agenda from the Green Connect website here.

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