Parks managers are bracing themselves for another swingeing budget cut and severe belt tightening, with the upkeep of community parks and sports pitches under real threat.
Liverpool City Council, which has to make £50m of savings across departments next year, has outlined radical possibilities for parks restructuring. This includes axing the upkeep for every community and neighbourhood park, of which there are dozens.
The council is also toying with shifting responsibility for green space management into leisure services, almost doubling annual allotment rents to £60 and contracting out the management of two golf courses. Locals are being asked to vote online to indicate which services they would rather see cut.
A council representative said: "The 'budget challenge' vote has been online for a week and is part of a consultation process. The votes will inform decisions, but councillors still have the final say."
A parks spokesman said: "If the public vote for parks, something else gets cut and it's not all gloom and doom. Extra money could come from grants and section 106 agreements or the new infrastructure levy. We are surprisingly upbeat and positive."
Cardiff County Council parks manager Peter Hamblin said: "We are expecting a budget cut of around 18 per cent and will absorb it by voluntary severance of about three or four people in valuable back-office jobs and cutting back on floral displays."
He said upkeep regimes by his 150-strong team would focus on city-centre sites, so smaller sports facilities with two or three pitches a few miles outside of Cardiff would see less maintenance compared with sports "hubs" in the capital.
Hamblin added: "Private contractors will also feel the burden as we cut back on weed control and infrastructure works such as fencing. The idea of using volunteers is good, but it can't happen overnight given the issues of specialism and safety."
However, one London council parks manager said he would not be surprised to see a budget rise because parks were valued by residents, who put them above bins and schools on surveys. "I don't expect major budget changes this year," he said.
Reading Borough Council parks manager Ben Stanesby said: "We will identify services that are least used and have low impact for cuts, but councillors will have the final decision. We will look more closely at income generation from assets, such as wine festivals."
Peter Wilkinson, director, Next Field green-space consultancy
"A significant percentage of cuts are being made through staff savings, including expensive senior managers, which don't always show as having an immediate impact on the service. The merging of services, with parks being subsumed into a different configuration, is often combined with this process. There is a growing concern about the loss of senior management skills so quickly."