Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Twentieth Report


The Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee has agreed to the following Report:—


"The measure of any great civilisation is its cities and a measure of a city's greatness is to be found in the quality of its public spaces, its parks and squares".[1]


1. During the course of inquiries undertaken in 1998 and early 1999, the subject of parks was informally mentioned several times in connection with discussions on sustainability and urban regeneration. Gradually a consensus emerged among the Environment Sub-committee of the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Select Committee that this should be a topic for examination at a future inquiry.

2. One of the features of the informal discussions had been the contrast between those who saw parks as the glory of Britain and those who lamented (or complained of) their decline. In the case of urban parks, one of the reasons often put forward for their supposed decline was the rise in popularity of country and wildlife parks. The committee therefore decided to try to establish whether urban parks had indeed declined, and, if so, how serious the decline was and how it might be remedied. In view of the argument that the decline of urban parks coincided with, or was caused by, the rise of country parks we opted to include country parks in our remit.

3. We saw our remit as follows:

  • the social, economic and environmental benefits of public parks;
  • the condition of public parks;
  • the roles and responsibilities of the DETR and other Government Departments, of local authorities and of other bodies in the maintenance and protection of public parks and public policy on parks;
  • the funding of public parks, including funding from National Lottery distributing bodies; and
  • other matters which may arise in the course of questioning.

4. Seventy-six items of written evidence were received from various bodies. In addition, we held a series of oral evidence sessions, and visited Oldham, Tameside, Manchester, and Stockport.[2] Individual members also undertook private research into their local parks.

5. We are extremely grateful to all who submitted evidence, answered our questions and arranged our visits. Our inquiry was greatly aided by our expert advisors, Alan Barber and David Lambert, to whom we are deeply grateful.


6. According to the Institute of Horticulture, "the history of Public Parks goes back to ancient Greece, where the city of Athens set aside certain open spaces for the enjoyment of the public".[3] However, like other witnesses such as the Garden History Society,[4] who refer us to their joint publication with the Victorian Society, Public Prospects: Historic Urban Parks under Threat, the Institute see the United Kingdom as being the first country to develop municipal parks.

7. Many of the leading designers of the day were involved in laying out public parks, the design principles in the 19th century being largely founded on the work of Humphry Repton in 18th-century private parks and pleasure grounds. The Garden History Society and Victorian Society's publication lists, among others, Derby Arboretum (1840), Philips Park Manchester (1846), Grosvenor Park Chester (1867), Hesketh Park Southport (1868), Stanley Park Liverpool (1870), Abbey Park Leicester (1882), Hanley Park Stoke-on-Trent (1891), Prince's Park Liverpool (1842), Birkenhead Park (1847), Crystal Palace Park London (1845), People's Park Halifax (1857) and Baxter Park Dundee (1863) as fine examples of this trend.

8. The park movement began slowly at first, mainly in the industrial centres of northwest England:

"In 1846, Manchester became the first of the great industrial cities to open municipal parks, raising the money by public subscription. As the park movement accelerated, land was donated and works were funded by philanthropists and industrialists, but by far the greatest number of parks were created by the local authorities themselves, and were a great cause for civic pride. By the end of the century, parks had become an essential part of the urban fabric: as much a part of the effort to raise urban living standards as libraries, public baths and museums".[5]

9. Public parks offered healthy and easily accessible recreation for those living and working in the often poor environment of Victorian Britain's rapidly-expanding towns and cities. An unhealthy and demoralised workforce threatened to become a social burden and depress the gains of the Industrial Revolution. Parks were seen as 'green lungs', addressing economic, social and environmental concerns which remain relevant today.

10. Then, the common aim of these parks was to offer a wide range of facilities and attractions, create a variety of landscapes, and accommodate large numbers of people. Over the decades, more emphasis was placed on sports. When they were first designed, municipal parks were often quite formal spaces; that formality has been relaxed of recent years as the result of this increasing emphasis on sport, and also because of reduced staffing levels.

11. By 1900 each local authority, however small, felt it needed its own park.[6] Parks were newly laid out by each council; in some cases large houses and their grounds were bought or donated by local benefactors. Throughout the first half of the 20th century there was intense local rivalry between councils on the matter of who had the best show of spring bulbs, roses or bedding-out plants, flowering clocks, or floral coats-of-arms. We were reminded of this on our visit to Philips Park in Manchester, where in the past a great sense of local occasion and civic pride had been engendered by their Tulip Festival.

12. The main responsibility for parks at a national level lies with the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR), but the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) also has some responsibility. In oral evidence, the Minister for the Arts, Alan Howarth, outlined the role of his department.[7] He saw the DCMS as a sponsoring department for English Heritage and Lottery Allocation bodies; in the case of Royal Parks his department directly spent £26.389 million.[8]

13. He told us how the new Regional Cultural Consortiums[9] were to work,[10] and stressed that they ought to include parks in their remit. He also made it clear that the new Museums, Libraries and Archive Council was not a suitable body to deal with historic parks[11] and suggested that the new Commission on Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) might be a more appropriate organisation.[12] Later he added: "We do expect that CABE will concern itself with the totality of the urban environment".[13]

14. While, as the DETR[14] points out, no local authority has a statutory duty to provide or maintain parks, civic pride in the 100 years from 1850 to 1950 meant that most local authorities have used the permissive powers of section 164 of the Public Health Act 1875 or the Open Spaces Act 1906 to develop local parks. In their evidence the Open Spaces Society sets out the complexity of the present law.[15]

15. It was only after the 1970s that English urban parks appeared to suffer a loss of status and esteem. This was just at the moment when the Countryside Commission, set up by the Countryside Act 1968, began to encourage the establishment of country parks. Today there are over 250 country parks, attracting 57 million visits per year.[16]

16. As the Countryside Agency points out, country parks can form 'gateways' between town and country. We were able to confirm this on our visit to Reddish Vale and the Medlock Valley in Greater Manchester, where we saw these country parks leading out from central urban areas towards the Pennines.

Country Parks

17. The Countryside Agency estimates that there are over 250 country parks ranging in size from 11 hectares (27 acres) to 1,875 hectares, and that well over half of them attract at least 100,000 visits a year.[17] The majority of responses to our invitation to submit evidence concentrated on urban rather than country parks. While urban parks had indeed been intended as the main focus of our inquiry, we included country parks in our terms of reference in order to establish whether they had taken over the role of town parks, and how far funding country parks had resulted in restricting the amount of money available for traditional urban parks.

18. This view had been expressed to us informally, as we have noted, but it also emerged during the present inquiry. For example Mr Tom Turner, author of City as Landscape, Landscape Planning and Environmental Impact Design, and (with Bryan Bowen) Public Open Space Planning and Management with Geographic Information Systems, claimed that: "Most people now have cars, and can drive into the country for the 'green experience' which they once enjoyed in the public park".[18]

19. This view appeared to be borne out when we visited North Reddish on a Tuesday morning. Though North Reddish Park was almost empty, a mile away Reddish Vale Country Park was thriving with activity: duck-feeding, dog-walking, fishing, a school visit, and people out walking or jogging. However, as very little formal evidence was submitted to us we have no means of concluding whether competition from country parks really does account, in part or whole, for the decline of urban parks.

20. Furthermore, even in the case of the apparently thriving country parks, a cause for concern may be emerging. The Countryside Commission publication, Countryside Recreation—Enjoying the Living Countryside (March 1999), recognised that some countryside parks are also now showing their age. Some are already in need of attention and investment to rejuvenate them.[19] This view was echoed in informal discussions in Oldham and Tameside. The evidence is inconclusive as yet. Oldham's Director of Education and Leisure Services, Mr Michael Willis, suggested in oral evidence that the authority was not too worried by the condition and funding for their country parks,[20] whereas Mr Paul Lawday, Director of Education and Leisure Services in the neighbouring borough of Tameside which shares responsibility for the Tame Valley, expressed some concern.[21]

21. The Countryside Agency in both written and oral evidence was upbeat about the value of country parks, stating that they "continue to provide a crucial place for people to visit and enjoy".[22] In response to the problems highlighted above, the Agency wished to lead "a renaissance in country parks"[23] and has accordingly proposed a number of specific initiatives.[24] We welcome this determination to champion the cause of country parks, as we believe that their continued maintenance is likely to come under the same kind of financial pressure as their urban counterparts We were, however, disappointed to learn that the Countryside Agency was reluctant to "put itself forward as the banker".[25]

22. We welcome the Countryside Agency's continued commitment to country parks, but believe that a financial commitment is required in order to make its leadership effective. We therefore recommend that the Countryside Agency reviews its present allocation of resources to country parks and specifically considers offering grants towards the repairs which are now becoming necessary. In addition to the production of best practice guidance, we want to see the Agency keep the subject under annual or continuing review.

Urban Parks


23. Though witnesses sent in plenty of evidence about urban parks, here too there is a basic lack of information. Discussions were informative but largely took place in a statistical vacuum. In their written evidence, the Landscape Heritage Trust (LHT) quoted a figure of 34,753 of "UK parks and open spaces under local authority control",[26] but these figures may not be entirely reliable. The LHT was quoting figures cited in the PriceWaterhouseCoopers feasibility study. In turn, these were based on data collected by the Audit Commission misquoting Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) figures (7,000 instead of 5,000) and incorrectly adding 2,700 nationally listed or registered sites to the historic parks listed in the HLF survey.

24. The figure of "30,000 parks in the UK of which 5,000 could be regarded as of national or local heritage merit" which the HLF themselves quote in their written evidence[27] may be more reliable, but even so it is potentially misleading since the term 'park' was not defined in their survey. It was thus open to a variety of interpretations by survey respondents. One large metropolitan borough council, for example, said it had only 8 parks, whilst a small rural authority claimed 130. Obviously they were working to different implicit definitions. One can only assume that the small rural authority had taken 'park' to mean any local authority maintained open space including grassed areas in housing estates, cemeteries, local authority-maintained churchyards and golf courses, whereas the large metropolitan borough had excluded all these spaces and perhaps some areas which others might have seen as bona fide 'parks'. Our advisers' estimate is that, taken together, there are probably about 5,000 country parks and formal urban parks and gardens in the UK.

25. Similarly, most visitor figures are derived from a single source. As far as we are aware, the only statistical evidence has been compiled by Ken Worpole, author of Park Life: Urban Parks and Social Renewal and People, Parks and Cities and one of Britain's most informed advocates of the place of the civic realm in raising the quality of life for urban people.[28] The latter report, compiled by Comedia/Demos and funded by local authorities, was constantly quoted by other witnesses. Mr Worpole and his team counted the numbers of people visiting three urban parks—Albert Park, Middlesborough; Victoria Park, Cardiff; and Clissold Park, Hackney. Extrapolating from these figures, he estimated that the parks had annual attendances of 1 million, ½ million and 1 million respectively, and concludes that: "100 million park attendances in London alone would not be amiss". These figures have not been challenged and were vigorously defended in his oral evidence.[29] They were the basis of most other witness's estimates.

26. Of course, if figures were available for attendance at individual parks it might well be discovered that averages such as this mask very wide variations from park to park. Looking, as we did, simply at parks in the Manchester area, one can see that some, such as Bruntwood Park in Stockport and Wythenshaw Park in Manchester are extremely popular; others, such as Stockport's Hollywood Park and Manchester's Queens Park, are shunned, despite their historic status. Similarly, the restored Stamford Park in Tameside buzzes with activity on a sunny day, whereas the unrestored Hyde Park is under-used.

27. The ideal level of park provision is a related statistical vacuum. It seems there is no standard which establishes the minimum amount of parkland needed in towns. As the National Playing Fields Association pointed out, there is clear guidance for sport, the so-called "six acre standard" (that is, six acres of provision per 1,000 head of population). This has been used by local planning authorities throughout the UK as a minimum standard to calculate their outdoor land for sport and children's play and has been recommended in the DETR's Policy Planning Guidance Note 17 on Sport and Recreation.[30] Though it was pointed out during our visit to Tameside that the target took no notice of the quality of the land, nor whether the sites were well located for use or management, it does at least provide a benchmark of provision.[31]

28. There is no such benchmark for informal recreational areas such as parks. We accept that laying down a minimum park provision could be a complicated task (and there is bound to be some overlap with the six acre standard for sport as some land in parks contributes to this target). Nevertheless, the absence of such standards, which should also encompass attributes including ease of access, landscape quality and diversity, helps preempt meaningful discussion of issues such as park provision and maintenance.

29. In so many of the Environment Sub-committee's inquiries it is apparent that decisions were being made by local government, central government, individuals and companies on the basis of incomplete or inaccurate information. This is certainly true of parks.[32] We believe it is essential that adequate research should be undertaken, and accurate records kept, of matters such as whether the amount of park, parkland and urban greenspace has increased or decreased over the last 30 years, what are the cost implications of maintaining this land, and whether attractive low cost regimes (such as local or volunteer help) can be used to look after some of this land, whilst still retaining its value as a recreational resource.

30. We expect the Government to come up with an effective research programme for parks as part of its Urban White Paper. The Committee is also of the view that all local authorities ought to know the extent of their parks in terms of their number, size, attributes and facilities. By means of a regular and statistically valid evaluation of their parks, local authorities should estimate visitor numbers, and know something of who they are and what they think of their parks. By these means, a national total of number of parks can be arrived at and comparisons made.

Two Perspectives

31. As we noted in the Preface to this Report, two sets of views dominate formal and informal discussions about urban parks. Some people love urban greenspaces and campaign to restore public parks, particularly the historic ones, to their former glory. Others see them as the emblems of urban decline. The former stress the value of parks to urban living; the latter stress park decline. We believe there is justice in both these arguments, so in the paragraphs below we present each view in turn. For Government and local authorities, the aim should be to respond to both views, and devise ways of maximising the value of parks and halting the decline. Finally, therefore, we discuss ways this might be achieved.


32. As an introduction to the views of those who stressed the value of urban parks and greenspaces, we can do no better than to quote evidence given by the Institute of Leisure and Amenity Management:

"Urban Parks and Green Spaces are an essential part of the urban heritage and infrastructure, being a strong element in the architectural and landscape character of a city, providing a sense of place and engendering civic pride.

They are important for enabling social interaction and fostering community development. Public green spaces help conserve natural systems, including carbon, water and other natural cycles, within the urban environment, supporting ecosystems and providing the contrast of living elements in both designed landscapes and conserved wildlife habitats within our urban settlements.

They are supportive of social and economic objectives and activities. In particular the provision of public parks helps to reduce the inequalities, poor health and social exclusion in deprived areas and reduces the inherent tension between the many social and ethnic groups. Providing for the recreational and leisure needs of a community assists the economic revival of cities, increasing their attractiveness as a place for business investment, to live, work and take our leisure."[33]

These are themes that recurred throughout the evidence presented to our inquiry.

Environmental Benefits

33. The memorandum sent in by the Wildlife Trusts and Urban Wildlife Partnerships stressed the role of parks in maintaining biodiversity. They told us:

"Parks may include wildlife habitats or provide opportunities for the creation of naturalistic habitats ... Larger parks ... are an important element in the network of urban green space, providing links between isolated pockets of biodiversity in the countryside for wildlife to migrate along ... The crucial role of parks has been acknowledged by wildlife experts as witnessed by their inclusion in a number of Biodiversity Action Plans".[34]

34. Stockport MBC said: "Urban and public greenspace provides a sanctuary for wildlife and nature which are under pressure from agricommerce"; and "Public greenspace is one of the few areas where biodiversity action planning is capable of being put into effect".[35] They also noted that: "Trees and woodland can moderate effects of weather, provide great aesthetic and visual effects, provide havens for wildlife as well as absorb pollution and free radicals from surrounding atmosphere and contribute significantly to the reduction in noise levels".

35. Other witnesses also stressed the value of parks in thus maintaining 'ecological health'. Bristol City Council Leisure Services Department noted that: "... parks contribute to the ecological health of the city. Open spaces are the 'lungs' of the city. The evaporation from trees' foliage helps to cool the air when the weather is hot. They trap airborne dust particles, filter air pollution and fix atmospheric carbon".[36] Dr Hazel Conway, author of several books on urban parks including People's Parks, and for 3 years involved in the HLF discussions which led to the setting up of the Urban Parks Panel, made a similar point: "One hectare of urban park, with trees, shrubs and grass can remove 600 kg of carbon dioxide from the air and deliver 600 kg of oxygen in a 12 hour period".[37]

Health and Relaxation

36. English Nature told us that they have reviewed some of the benefits which daily contact with plants and animals brings, and "the minimum standards for providing accessible 'natural' greenspace which such regular contact demands". Their report, Human well-being, natural landscapes and wildlife in urban areas: A review, concluded that: "Human beings need to make contact with nature in the course of their daily lives, and no special effort (or journey) ought to be required for obtaining it". Their report on Accessible natural greenspace in towns and cities: A review of appropriate size and distance criteria found that to maintain good health by these means required that "an accessible natural greenspace of two hectares should lie within 280 metres of everyone's home".[38]

37. The memorandum of the Urban Forum of the UK Man and the Biosphere Committee offered figures of: "One 2ha site within 500m ... and one accessible 500ha site within 10km" and noted that these standards were adopted by English Nature in 1996 with a modification that everyone should have access to a natural greenspace in less than 300m in a straight line from home.[39]

38. It is a general consensus that relaxation, contemplation and passive recreation are effective relievers of stress. As the Institute of Horticulture put it: "It has long been believed that Urban Parks, as an antidote to the pressures of urban living ... promote both physical and mental well-being".[40] Similar points were made in oral evidence by Mr Bernard Sheridan, Manager, Urban and Countryside Services Stockport MBC, who told us that research had shown that: "within 20 minutes of going into a quality green space, things like stress levels ... and ... toxins ... are reduced substantially, blood pressure and heart rate are reduced and also stress level tension in the muscles is reduced".[41] Bristol City Council, Leisure Services Department told us that: "There is a growing belief in the 'Biophillia effect'—which links environmental quality to social behaviour and suggests that close contact with nature on a regular or even casual basis reduces stress, anxiety and aggression".[42] This effect was also noted by Dr Hazel Conway.[43]

39. The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management told us that social changes have led to people having more time for leisure and to adopt "a fitter and healthier lifestyle ... It is known, for example, that over 84 per cent of the population take recreation by walking in open spaces and countryside".[44] Mr D.A.T. Thain, a member of the Friends of Dunloran Park, submitting his own written evidence emphasised that parks such as his provide "an ideally calm and protected place for walking, with or without one's dog, with lovely views and freedom from traffic".[45]

40. Mr Worpole likewise told us that: "It is part of the pattern of every day life for a large number of people. ... It is a kind of walkable, bump-into-able kind of place which I think is a very important function to have in a community".[46] He added:

"The percentage of people who walk to urban parks is astonishingly stable at about 69 per cent. If Clissold Park in Hackney recorded well over 5,000 users on one Sunday in 1997, the majority of whom walked to the park, then it must have been in the region of 20-30 per cent of the local catchment population. All our surveys showed that over 40 per cent of those interviewed in parks claimed to visit every day."[47]

41. These sorts of provision are specially important for disabled people. As evidence from Jane Stoneham, Director of the Sensory Trust, and Tony Kendle from the University of Reading's Department of Horticulture and Landscape, noted "lack of confidence about what challenges will be encountered"[48] often prevent disabled people from using natural sites. Parks are therefore very important facilities for them. Parks "represent the main opportunity for the greatest number of people to have contact with nature, particularly for people with limited mobility":

"The benefits of sport and exercise cannot be underestimated, but these benefits can and must be extended to a wider population. Government health policy is moving towards an emphasis on holistic approaches to maintaining health rather than trying to cure sickness. Urban parks can play a key role in provision of doctor-prescribed health walks and also provide less formal ways of encouraging people to maintain activity and personal well-being".[49]

Play, Entertainment and Recreation

42. As the Central Council for Physical Recreation (CCPR), the National Playing Field Association (NPFA) and Stockport MBC all told us in their written evidence,[50] good parks will provide space for vigorous and noisy activity, and offer facilities for sport, recreation and leisure. "Public parks", the CCPR told us, "should play an essential role in encouraging children's play by providing appropriate and safe play areas".[51] The sort of activities a park can accommodate were described by Mr Thain. In Dunloran Park there is boating and canoeing on the lake and elderly people and young couples with their children come to feed the birds. At weekends the lake is used by a model yacht and boat club. There is a peaceful picnicking place that shop and office workers may use during their lunch-time break. The upper field is available to the horticultural society's annual display, to visiting circuses (Moscow and China), to Scout Camps, and other groups. The northern slopes, where the café is situated, make a safe viewing area for spectators at the annual charity fireworks display, which is set up on the southern side of the lake.

Community Spirit

43. "Greenspace at its best should be at the heart of the community and its leisure provision ... where good quality public parks are managed well they can be at the wellspring of community spirit," Stockport MBC told us. This effect could be achieved because parks are accessible to all ages, gender, race and religions; they can absorb crowds, especially large groups of young people, away from streets/shopping centres; events, large and small, can be staged there throughout the year. Greenspace issues are capable of uniting the whole community and can be the focus of community development and local regeneration fostering a sense of community pride; such activity promotes ethnic and social harmony; and play and family activities in greenspace contribute to building strong families. The Black Environment Network pointed out how the activities involving "celebration, discovery and enjoyment" which parks could accommodate impacted "directly on the quality of life of vulnerable groups".[52]

44. The same point was made by Mr Timothy Marshall, who was Deputy Administrator for Central Park, New York for 14 years. He told the Inquiry how improvements in Central Park had, as he put it "jumped the wall"; that is, they had led to a greater sense of civic pride among people in the disadvantaged areas to the north of the park and "sparked a renewed interest on the part of neighbourhood residents who now use the park".[53]

45. The point about ethnic and racial harmony was also brought up by Mr Worpole. When he was asked in oral evidence whether he thought that parks help build strong communities particularly in towns and cities, he replied:

"Yes, because we did pay attention to ethnic minority use of parks which we investigated and it was as high as the ethnic minority populations represented in that area. What is interesting about parks is that they do not have what is called the threshold factor of other cultural institutions and everybody does feel free to walk into a park ... The flexibility of a park to accommodate all different people's cultures, it is an open stage in which different sectors of the community can at different times of the year present themselves".[54]


46. According to Stockport MBC: "A huge range of educational opportunities can be met" in parks.[55] Urban greenspace can be used as "a training resource, can positively contribute to the skill levels of communities".[56] Mr Marshall spoke of Central Park now being "used as an educational as well as recreational resource ... the park is used as a tool to teach history, natural sciences, mathematics, and civic pride".[57] The same effect was noted by Dr Conway.[58]

The Urban Economy

47. Parks may prove to be an important factor in urban regeneration. For example, the Garden History Society pointed out that a programme of park-building was the first step in the preparation of Barcelona's bid for the 1992 Olympics, and that the city's investment in parks and urban infrastructure "to prepare the ground for private developers, has continued to this day".[59] Similarly, the author and journalist Gillian Darley, architectural correspondent to The Observer,[60] pointed to a number of other cities in France, the Netherlands, Italy and the USA where park restoration had fostered city regeneration.

48. An interesting local example of the link between even the smallest park, homes and regeneration is provided by the Centenary Exhibition booklet (1997) sent in by the Friends of Heaton Moor Park.[61] It features, among other things, quotations from The Path to Healthy and Happy Homes, a 1930s guidebook to the Manchester area, which describes Heaton Moor as one of the "very best residential suburbs" with "many open spaces, delightful parks and recreation grounds in which there are facilities for every outdoor game and amusement." An adjoining advertisement for houses overlooking the park has the headline "Heaton Moor for Health and Houses." Plans show the park as being planned and laid out in the 1890s before housing development had quite reached so far, and the houses being built around it in several stages at later dates. The park remains an attraction and has helped foster the recent regeneration of the district.

49. Sheffield City Council's evidence[62] claims that Sheffield is the greenest city in England with 500 sites (1,830 hectares of parks and open spaces, and 1,400 hectares of woodland) which represents nearly 50 sq.m of public open space per person. When, in an oral session, Councillor Martin Brelsford was asked if he regarded it as a burden or an asset, he said "definitely ... an asset".[63] Mr Keith Crawshaw, Head of Leisure Services, added, "one of the clear selling points of the city is the gold and green frame in which it sits".[64]

50. Stockport MBC noted that quality greenspace contributes greatly to the value of a neighbourhood and positively affects property values. Attractive areas bring inward investment and business retention and can provide a wide range of employment opportunities as part of a regeneration programme. Well-managed greenspace can contribute to the tourism value of an area. In addition: "the provision of meaningful leisure activities in greenspace can reduce the high costs of vandalism and criminal activity".[65] Responding to a notice about the inquiry posted in Horticulture Week, Mr A.P. Bishop noted that: "Many local authorities can afford to open the purse strings ... it can pay off in the long run". He gives his reasons as: reduction in crime; 30 per cent increases in house prices; better health; better education; employment opportunities; revenue to towns; and the creation of tourism.[66] "If you go into any estate agent, and we did," said Mr Worpole, "they will tell you if you are only 50 yards from a certain park there is £10,000 on the cost of the house".[67]

51. Though it has been commonplace in the last 30 years to regard entertainment in the park as an expense rather than a money earner, parks can and do also generate income through tourism and in-park facilities. We were told that Bruntwood Park in Stockport was able to cover its costs from the café franchise, the kiosk sales, the pitch-and-putt course and the car-parking charges. In a supplementary memo, Stockport MBC noted that: "Greenspace and its facilities and attractions can generate income ... Stockport's greenspace provides direct income from hire of sports pitches, fishing, golf, car parking etc amounting to around £300,000 per annum".[68] Mr Thain observed that Dunloran Park, with "its range of facilities, is an attraction to tourists visiting Tunbridge Wells or making a tour of parks in the region. When restoration work, for which finance is currently being sought from the National Lottery, has been carried out, its attractions would be significantly increased".[69]

52. The Landscape Heritage Trust quoted a report by PriceWaterhouseCoopers which argued that the value of urban parks can be calculated in financial terms and that this value "is likely to be in the region of over £5,000 million per annum".[70] Similarly, evaluating the effects of tourism expenditure at leading UK parks and historic gardens suggests a local economic impact of approximately £300 million per annum.

53. The Committee is enthusiastic about the Government's concept of an 'urban renaissance'. It notes that such an aspiration comes not only from Lord Rogers' Task Force, but is shared by all the main political parties. On its success hangs a wide range of Government environmental aims, from the Climate Change Programme to our ability to meet pollution targets and protect the countryside from urban sprawl. Lord Rogers' final report says

"To achieve urban integration means thinking of urban open space not as an isolated unit—be it a street, park or a square—but as a vital part of urban landscape with its own specific set of functions. Public space should be conceived of as an outdoor room within a neighbourhood, somewhere to relax, and enjoy the urban experience, a venue for a range of different activities, from outdoor eating, to street entertainment; from sport and play areas to a venue for civic or political functions; and most importantly of all a place for walking or sitting-out. Public spaces work best when they establish a direct relationship between the space and the people who live and work around it".[71]

54. We believe that parks must be a key element in this vision. Ideally there should be a seamless transition from the home and private garden, through landscaped areas, into urban parks, and on to the countryside or country park. If our cities are to see a renaissance then we should bear in mind the words of John Ruskin: "The measure of any great civilisation is its cities and a measure of a city's greatness is to be found in the quality of its public spaces, its parks and squares".[72]

55. We should 'start with the park', as one of the founding architect-planners, Don Ritson, advised:

"In many 'developed' societies, economists and politicians are increasingly puzzled by the fact that increased material wealth no longer automatically produces an increased sense of well-being. ... In the search for new values, based less on material wealth and more on the quality of personal and social relationships and community, together with a restored relationship to the natural world, then the urban park could once again come into its own as a site for social renewal ... Asked what was the foundation stone of these new communities ... Don Ritson simply stated that one should 'Start with the Park'".[73]

56. We believe that parks are key features in the renaissance of our urban areas. They have been instrumental in the regeneration of New York, Barcelona and Paris.[74] They need to be recognised and resourced as such by central and local government. In addition, the Social Exclusion Unit should give a high priority to making parks attractive places where all the community can enjoy themselves.

1   John Ruskin Back

2   An account of the Committee's visit is contained in an annex to this report. Back

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9   A press release published on 4 June 1999 by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport sets out the role of the new Regional Cultural Consortiums as follows: " to champion the role and importance of culture and the creative industries in the English regions ...The Consortiums will assist the improved delivery of regional cultural services and draw up a regional cultural strategy feeding into the work of the Regional Development Agency and other organisations in the region. They will also have a role in developing the Lottery distributors' strategies".  Back

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26   TCP 24 Ev p. 57 Back

27   TCP 54 Ev p. 138 Back

28   NB: The Royal Parks Agency does assess visitor numbers to its eight urban parks in London Back

29   Q 66 Back

30   TCP 23 Ev p. 55 para 7.1 Back

31   Q 248 Back

32   TCP 22 Ev p. 51; Q 70 Back

33   TCP 12 Ev p. 28 - ILAM quote based on a description originally contained in Council of Europe Recommendation No R(86)11 of the Committee of Ministers to Members States on Urban Open Space Back

34   TCP 45 Ev p. 109 Back

35   TCP 34 Ev p. 79 Back

36   TCP 13 Ev p. 30 Back

37   TCP 36 Ev p. 84 3.para 6 - based on a Landscape Design article, February 1994 Back

38   TCP 4 Ev p. 6 Back

39   TCP 6 Ev p. 11 Back

40   TCP 7 Ev p. 14 para 4.3 Back

41   Q 306 Back

42   TCP 13 Ev p. 29 Back

43   TCP 36 Ev p. 84 para 3.7 Back

44   TCP 8 Ev p. 18 para 4.1 Back

45   TCP 1 Ev p.1 Back

46   Q 75 Back

47   TCP 46, Ev p.113 Back

48   TCP 21, Ev p.50 Back

49   TCP 21, Ev p. 50 Back

50   TCP 11; TCP23; TCP 34 Back

51   TCP 11, Ev p.22 Back

52   Judy Long Wong for the Black Environment Network, The Benefits to Vulnerable Social Groups of Town and Country Parks Back

53   TCP 59 Ev p. 150 Back

54   Q 54 Back

55   TCP 34 Ev p. 78 Back

56   TCP 34 Ev p. 79 Back

57   TCP 59; Q 593 Back

58   TCP 36 Ev p. 82 Back

59   TCP 49 Back

60   TCP 61 Back

61   Friends of Heaton Moor Park, Centenary Exhibition 1997 Back

62   TCP 41 Ev p.94 Back

63   Q 137 Back

64   Q 137 Back

65   TCP 34 Ev p. 78-79 Back

66   TCP 25, Ev p.59 Back

67   Q 58 Back

68   TCP 34 (a) - see Appendices to Mins of Ev (HC477-III) Back

69   TCP 1 Ev p. 1 Back

70   TCP 24 Ev p. 57 Back

71   Towards an Urban Renaissance: Final Report of the Urban Task Force Chaired by Lord Rogers of Riverside, June 1999, Ev p. 57 Back

72   Quoted by ILAM (TCP 12 Ev p. 24); Growing Ambitions Limited (TCP 28 Ev p. 63) and others Back

73   Quoted in Ken Worpole's Park Life: Urban Parks and Social Renewal. Also in TCP 49 Ev p. 123. Back

74   Referred to by TCP 61 Ev p. 153 and others Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 1999
Prepared 8 November 1999