Royal Parks' plans scrutinised

Need to generate revenue escalates for Royal Parks as Government funding continues to fall.

Lennon: agency’s chief executive
Lennon: agency’s chief executive

The Royal Parks will need to generate 75 per cent of its income by 2015-16 as Government grants decrease and issues such as tree diseases add pressure to resources.

The agency, which comes under the direct supervision of the Departure for Culture, Media & Sport, has suffered sharp cuts already and has brought income generation up to 60 per cent of its revenue to compensate.

It currently generates £18m a year from charges, corporate hires and big events such as British Summer Time, Winter Wonderland and Taste of London.

But Royal Parks chief exec Linda Lennon told the London Assembly that it is looking for further ways to make money to cover an extra 10 per cent cut in the 2015-16 financial year. Tree diseases and repairs are also heavy drains on resources.

Lennon and Royal Parks board chairman Apurv Bagri were questioned about financial challenges, achievements, sharing services and future plans by London Assembly members at the Greater London Authority at City Hall on 6 November.

"Another financial challenge is that we are custodian for very important memorials for which we don't have endowments. We currently have a £47m maintenance backlog list," said Lennon.

Assembly member Stephen Knight asked whether the agency is striking the right balance between generating more income, biodiversity and satisfying the parks' users.

Lennon replied: "We strive to get that balance. We have acres of space where people play informal sports. We have the most popular outdoor sports arena in London - the Hub in Regent's Park. That has a scaling list of charges."

She added that the introduction of charges for using football pitches in Hyde Park was a response to increased demand and pointed out that Royal Parks introduced a booking system there.

Assembly member and deputy mayor for business and enterprise Kit Malthouse was more concerned with big events. "There are too many events in the park, not just because of the initial impact but because of the ongoing damage to the park, which makes them unusable," he said. "The Regent's Park is a quagmire - it's just awful."

Lennon said Royal Parks gets around 5,000 requests for events in its parks but permits only 30, including some compulsory events such as Trooping the Colour and the Queen's birthday. Her plan is to maximise the income from existing events, not add new ones, she explained.

"Our absolute aim is to get that balance. We've got something like 4,500 different species of flora and fauna and 5,000 acres of green space. But equally we need to generate income for the parks and we also need to provide a diverse range of activities."

She pointed out that event organisers pay for reinstatement as well as providing a bond before events.

Royal Parks is also looking for ways to increase the £800,000 that it earns from letting out park lodges.

Future focus Quality and excellence

Speaking about Royal Parks' plans for the future, chairman of the board Apurv Bagri said: "The most important thing that we seek to protect is the parks being places of quality and excellence.

"The view that the executive takes and the mayor takes is we need the intrinsic qualities of these parks to remain. They are unique spaces where people can escape the pressures of urban life. We want the parks to be exemplars in the field of quality horticulture and land management. We want them to be havens of biodiversity."

He insisted that Royal Parks has "done really well" in generating the income it needs.

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