Why we need a new inquiry into urban parks

Our public parks are under threat once more as the impact of the spending cuts becomes clear.

Princes Street Gardens - image: HW
Princes Street Gardens - image: HW

Budget savings have resulted in disproportionate cuts to urban parks services, the State of the Market Survey 2012 published by the Association of Public Service Excellence (APSE) this April confirmed.

Meanwhile, nearly a third of authorities reported frontline staff being lost in the first year of the squeeze on public spending alone, said parks charity GreenSpace.

In London, parks budgets have fallen by 44 per cent in the past four years, the London Parks & Green Spaces Forum reported last month.

In Liverpool, which has lost a third of its green-space budget in two years along with 65 parks staff, officials came perilously close last year to withdrawing maintenance completely from all community parks.

Added to this, 96 per cent of green-space managers from councils across the UK have told APSE that the lack of investment in parks will impact negatively on health and social well-being.

Eighty per cent of parks managers are predicting a fall in quality standards as they become unable to deal with vandalism and maintenance, and 50 per cent are expecting a drop in public perceptions of safety. There is a slide back towards no-go areas for children, families and old people.

Hopes that parks' long-established ranks of local volunteers might help to ease some of the impacts of the unprecedented pressure on budgets are also being dashed as that same pressure undermines the ability of teams to support their volunteers.

Tree Council director-general Pauline Buchanan Black has warned of the impact of overstretched tree officers on professional support for the national volunteer tree warden scheme. "The collaborative working style, through no fault of the tree officers, is being withdrawn," she told HW last month.

Compounding the current challenges facing the sector is the absence at national level of any department, body or function with a watching brief for any aspect of the UK's urban parks.

CABE Space has gone, the Design Council has omitted parks from the remit it inherited, the last civil servant with responsibility for any aspect of parks at Communities & Local Government has left, the future of the Green Flag Awards is unclear and the Green Infrastructure Partnership is focused on creating landscape elements rather than maintaining existing urban parks.

So where do green space professionals and all those deeply concerned with the quality of urban parks across the UK and the maintenance of this critical part of our national heritage go with the issues they are facing, their ideas and their solutions?

David Lambert, expert adviser to the 1999 town and country parks inquiry of the Commons environment, transport and regional affairs committee, warned recently in The Times newspaper: "We are embarking on a return to the near-terminal spiral of decline in which parks found themselves in the 1970s and 1980s - vandalised toilets, untended flower beds and closed cafes and paddling pools".

This is a fear shared by many of the green-space sector's highly committed professionals. It is also why we believe that now is the time for a fresh parliamentary inquiry into urban parks.

96% - Proportion of green space managers telling APSE that a lack of investment will impact on health and social well-being

80% - Level of parks managers predicting a fall in quality standards as they are unable to deal with vandalism

74% - Proportion of parks professionals who told APSE that the cuts to park services are disproportionate

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The 1999 select committee inquiry

The Department of Environment, Transport & Regional Affairs select committee report on town and country parks was published in 1999. The key findings included:

- Adequate research should be undertaken and accurate records kept of whether urban green space has increased or decreased over the past 30 years.

- Parks are a key feature in the renaissance of our urban areas and they need to be resourced as such by local and central Government.

- There should be a Government initiative to set up an urban parks and green spaces agency.

- Making parks safe and making them feel safe must be a priority for councils.

- The Green Flag Awards scheme should be coordinated with the work of a national agency.

In Pictures

Last week's reception at the House of Commons hosted by the All-Party Parliamentary Gardening & Horticulture Group brought professionals together with parliamentarians to discuss the issues facing the sector.

See photo gallery.



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