Informed public debate on the funding of parks needed

A new report from the University of Leeds has called for a national debate on who should pay for the UK’s much-loved public parks and green spaces.

Released during #LoveParks Week, Charitable Giving to Parks and Green Spaces arrives at a time of increased concern about the future of public parks, with more than 90 per cent of park managers having experienced funding cuts in the past decade.

With three quarters of the population are due to visit their local park at least once a fortnight during the summer, the report argues that charitable giving has an important but limited role in bridging the funding gap and stimulating greater civic engagement.

The House of Commons Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee recently concluded that Britain’s 27,000 urban parks are at a ‘tipping point’ and threatened with decline, which would lead to ‘severe consequences’ for their ‘vital contribution to many of our most important strategic objectives, such a climate change mitigation, public health and community integration’.

Local authorities currently have no statutory duty to provide and maintain public parks. The report authors argue that charitable donation initiatives are operating in the context of a long-standing belief that parks are a public service, managed by local authorities and funded through taxation.

Leeds itself has experienced a 50 per cent cut to its parks budget since 2010 and, like most local authorities, has had to diversify its income base to offset the reduction, generating revenue from cafés, shops and visitor attractions, events, concessions and business sponsorship.   

Leeds City Council, along with Leeds Community Foundation and Leeds Parks and Green Spaces Forum, has set up a charitable fund for parks, Leeds Parks Fund, which provides businesses and individuals with a platform to support community-led enhancements to parks across the city.   

Anna Barker, from Leeds’ School of Law, led the research. She said: “Public parks are vital features of our towns and cities that provide numerous benefits for people, communities and the environment.  But park managers require new and diverse sources of external income if parks are to survive ongoing cuts, a lack of statutory protection, and no cross-funding from other public services that benefit from the contribution parks make to wellbeing, notably health.

“In this context, many local authorities are beginning to work with charitable partners to establish voluntary donation initiatives to help maintain and improve parks. There needs to be an informed public debate on the funding of parks, including the role of charitable giving and the urgent need for donations if parks are to survive deep cuts. Charitable giving should not be a substitute for local authority funding.”