Collaboration key as public parks face decline

A new Heritage Lottery Fund report has called for collaborative national and local action to deliver new ways of funding parks.

The 'State of UK Public Parks 2016’ report outlines the continuing need to develop innovative mixed model approaches to funding parks, such as local authority commitment, commercial opportunities and fundraising, to avoid the risk of rapid decline.

In the report, the Heritage Lottery Fund highlighted that 92 per cent of park managers reported cuts to their revenue budget over the past three years, with 95 per cent expecting their revenue budget to be cut over the next three years as well.

Additionally, 53 per cent of park managers reported their parks to be in a good condition, which is seven per cent lower compared to 2014, with a 14 per cent decrease in park managers reporting their parks to have been improving over the past three years.

Other figures in the report showed that 50 per cent of local authorities have transferred outdoor sports facilities to community groups over the last three years, with councils increasingly turning to other ways to raise money. 22.5 per cent of funding for parks comes from external sources and this is expected to increase to almost a third, 29 per cent, in the next three years.

The report argues that, as owners of most public parks and green spaces, local authorities have a pivotal role in ensuring the continued provision of quality parks, while active partnerships also need to be promoted and communities supported.

Ros Kerslake, chief executive of Heritage Lottery Fund, said: “Put simply, parks are not a luxury. They are essential to our increasingly busy urban lives and thanks to National Lottery players they’ve never been in such great shape.

“But these are financially tough times and if we are to successfully halt the onset of decline in our parks and avoid wasting this investment, we need to come together now to find innovative and sustainable models of funding and maintaining these highly valued community spaces.”

Dave Morris, chair of the National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces, added: “Our public green spaces are treasured and essential resources for all sections of our communities, as underlined by the rise over the last 15 years of the inspirational movement of many thousands of local greenspace friends groups. Rather than accept the deepening underfunding crisis we call on the public to demand these vital spaces be well managed and secure for current and future generations.”

Cllr Ian Stephens, chairman of the LGA’s Culture, Tourism and Sport Board, said: "As this report recognises, councils are taking innovative approaches to using park spaces, such as providing pop-up spaces for local businesses and giving communities a say in how their parks are run.

"Ensuring parks are maintained to the highest standard is paramount. However, over the previous parliament central government funding for councils was reduced by 40 per cent in real terms. Despite this difficult backdrop, councils are doing everything they can to provide the best possible park services.”