Public parks in danger of falling into neglect, warn MPs

Public parks in danger of falling into neglect, warn MPs

Child in a playground

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Parks are seeing playgrounds removed in a spending squeeze, MPs say

Public parks are at risk of falling into neglect as funding to maintain them comes under pressure, says a report by a committee of MPs.

The squeeze has resulted in reduced opening hours, paddling pools being turned off and play equipment removed, toilets being closed and an increase in litter, vandalism and rats, they said.

The UK has around 27,000 public parks attracting 2.6 billion visits a year.

The MPs urged councils to find new ways to fund and manage parks.

The report by the Commons Communities and Local Government (CLG) Committee argued housing demand was also putting parks at risk, with new homes “nibbling away” at green spaces in some areas.

The MPs warned that unless parks were recognised as “much more than just grass and tulips”, there was a risk of turning the clock back to an era of neglect of 20 to 30 years ago.

Local authorities have no statutory duty to fund and maintain public parks, and a 2014 report by the Heritage Lottery Fund found 86% of park managers had seen cuts to their budgets since 2010.

Alternative models

The MPs argued that parks play an important role by:

  • Helping to integrate communities
  • Tackling climate change
  • Preventing flooding
  • Reducing air pollution exposure
  • Boosting health
  • Providing leisure amenities

Councils should publish strategic plans that recognise parks’ wider value and consider a range of alternative models for looking after parks, they said.

However, the MPs added, they should remain owned by local authorities and be freely available to everyone.

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Parks needed recognising as more than just tulips and grass, the MPs said

The MPs also entered the debate over the free use of parks by organisations such as Parkrun, which hit the headlines when a parish council tried to charge for its weekly runs in a Bristol park last year.

Community organisations, such as Parkrun, which do not charge for participation or raise revenue, could be encouraged to contribute volunteer time to help maintain parks or undertake fundraising, the report said.

‘Treasured assets’

Clive Betts, Labour chairman of the Commons committee, said: “Parks are treasured public assets, as the overwhelming response to our inquiry demonstrates, but they are at a tipping point and, if we are to prevent a period of decline with potentially severe consequences, then action must be taken.”

He said the government had a leadership role to play and volunteers did “fantastic work” but the primary responsibility lay with local authorities.

The vast majority of councils have cut budgets for parks and were likely to cut further, with Newcastle City Council’s parks management budget slashed by 97% in five years, the report found.

The government should help councils find innovative ways of managing public parks and green spaces should also be at the heart of planning, the report added.

Parkrun UK facts and figures:

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Parkruns, such as this one in Sheffield joined by Jessica Ennis-Hill, take place across the country

•Number of events – 78,995

•Number of locations – 443

•Average run time – 00:27:54

•Number of runners – 1,199,064

•Total distance run – 69,671,120km.

Source: BBC – UK News

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