Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Twentieth Report

Miscellaneous Causes for Concern

Park Expenditure

114. The main issues concerned the amount of money needed to maintain urban greenspace and how it might be raised. The amount of greenspace a local authority has can be a very important factor in its expenditure plans. The National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardners, Region 5 West Midlands were worried that parks were being used to offset their own cost, parts of parks being sold off for short-term capital gains.[126] The issue that was most commonly raised, however, was the lack of local financial autonomy.

115. Sheffield City Council who, as we have seen, is very proud of their greenspace, told us that the city currently spent £3.5 million a year on parks and "were constantly urging" local councillors that this sum needed to be increased. In contrast Newham Leisure Services told us that: "current estimates put the population at approximately 230,000, yet less than six per cent of land in the Borough is laid out as public parks or gardens, despite the development of three new parks this decade".[127] Newham said that:

"The majority of local authority funding for parks (including Newham) is directed from the Revenue Support Grant from Central Government. The Standard Spending Assessment formula is applied to determine the appropriate level of spending by individual local authorities. As a 'discretionary' service, there is no calculation that reflects the investment or maintenance requirements of parks...".[128]

116. This means that no account is taken of the amount of greenspace an authority has relative to its population. In the past, the rating system almost always allowed for the nearness of amenities such as parks to form part of the calculations for rateable value. Now, Council Tax bands tend to be too broad-brush to take such factors into account. Similarly, when local councils used to raise a substantial proportion of their income from local rates, residents could easily see a spending relationship between what was paid in rates and the standard of their local park. Today that link is obscured.

117. In our report on Local Government Finance we made a series of recommendations about enabling local councils to raise a larger proportion of their own revenues rather than depending on Government grants. If, however, the Government is determined not to increase local fundraising powers, when determining grants to local authorities it must take more account of the number and size of public parks that have to be maintained.

Other Leisure Users

118. The Central Council of Physical Recreation[129] pointed out that over 5 per cent of the population went fishing in 1996, and made a strong plea that local authorities and other statutory bodies should manage water effectively, particularly water bodies in urban and country parks. Sustrans made a plea for cycling in parks. They were particularly anxious that it was made easier to establish cycle routes through parks.[130] Many late Victorian and early Edwardian parks had by-laws which allowed cycling before 9 or 10 am.


119. We received very little evidence about dogs in parks but Mr Worpole made it clear it was an issue:

"Presumably at some point in your inquiry you are going to have to confront the dog issue which we tried to avoid but could not. The fact is there are six and half million dogs in Britain and we assume that a percentage of them their owners take for walks in the park. I am not particularly a dog lover but I think that is a legitimate use, dogs are important to lots of people's lives".[131]

120. The House of Commons Library estimate that the 6.5 million dogs would produce 1,625 tonnes of excrement per day. So while parks are important to dog owners as a place to walk their dog, they can produce major problems for local authorities in managing the problems of excrement. It was clear that some progress is being made by some local councils in persuading dog owners to clear up after their dogs. In some parks bins for dog-dirt are well used, although there are sometimes complaints that they are not emptied frequently enough and are subject to occasional vandalism.

121. We are grateful to Reading Borough Council for sending us details of their Dog Mess Action by Agenda 21 groups in Reading. We have not heard from any local authority who has successfully designated parts of parks as dog-free zones, but during our visit to Tameside our hosts described how they had used fencing around children's play equipment to keep loose dogs and strays out.

122. Dog walking gives pleasure to many people and need not be a problem to other people if parks have bins for dog excrement, regular patrols by park staff, and good education about the problems.

Halting Decline 1: Some Existing Solutions

The Listing System

123. In oral evidence, Richard Caborn pointed out that the main protection for parks was through the planning system (principally PPG 17). Alan Howarth pointed out the role of English Heritage's listing system.[132] English Heritage's Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in England lists 1,300 sites in grades I, II* and II. PPG 15 (para 2.24) advises local authorities to protect the parks that appear on the register.[133] As far as historic buildings are concerned, listing by English Heritage acts as a trigger mechanism in the planning process. Unfortunately the same does not happen with parks, firstly because so few are listed and secondly because decline tends to be as a result of neglect rather than designed destruction.

124. However, the Heritage Lottery Fund told us that "public parks have been notoriously under-represented on these lists".[134] This was clearly the case the Committee found in the Greater Manchester area during its on-site visits. The relevant register proved to be notable more for its omissions than its inclusions. Though the industrial North, and particularly the Greater Manchester area is usually regarded as one of the pioneers of public parks, of the 10 authorities in the area, Manchester City was cited 3 times, Wigan twice, Stockport twice, and the other 7 authorities were cited 6 times between them. Even a short visit to each of the authorities would identify a substantial number of Victorian and Edwardian Parks, in many cases very well preserved. If one compares the Register of Parks and Gardens with the list of Historic Mill Buildings in the same area, the failure of English Heritage to provide a comprehensive listing is starkly obvious.

125. Also it is clear that while English Heritage is vigorously involved in work with listed buildings right down to ensuring that details of design are protected, it does not appear to show any interest in retaining the integrity of park designs even for parks on its list. Following the 1987 gales, English Heritage and the Countryside Commission made grants to restore storm damage. The budget of £4m was mostly spent on private rather than public gardens,[135] although the storm was no respecter of ownership.

126. The HLF told us, however, that due to the impetus of the Urban Parks Programme, the agencies are beginning to remedy the situation. English Heritage has commissioned a review of the effectiveness of current legislation, and has concluded that it is inadequate.[136]

127. We are appalled by English Heritage's neglect of parks and other designed landscapes. Its expenditure and commitment of staff have been derisory. English Heritage must take its responsibility for parks much more seriously. It ought to survey all municipal parks over 30 years old to see if they ought to be included on its register, and make public the reasons for inclusion or exclusion. Once an agency has been established, it should take over responsibility for the register. We intend to consider this issue further during this Parliament.

Lottery Money and Other Funding Sources

128. In a few historic parks restoration work is being undertaken with the help of lottery money. Obviously this is good news, but again it is important to sound a note of caution. Successful bids involve local authorities promising resources for the future maintenance of the restored park; the obvious danger is that this money will be found by spending even less on other parks.

129. The main impetus for action on historic parks has come in the last three years from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), who told us their mission was: "To improve the quality of life by safeguarding and enhancing the heritage of buildings, objects and the environment, whether man made or natural ... which will encourage more sections of society to appreciate and enjoy their heritage and enable them to hand it on in good heart to future generations".[137] The HLF has so far received £1.35 billion, and awarded £117 million to park schemes.

They explain:

"HLF launched the Urban Parks Programme (UPP) in 1996, in response to the professional and public concern articulated in reports by the GMB Union, the Garden History Society and the Victorian Society combined, and the Park Life report compiled by Comedia/Demos and funded by local authorities. These reports set out the important contribution of public parks to the nation's quality of life; ... their potential contribution to social and economic regeneration and to the sustainability of communities. They also argued that the increasing dereliction and decay of the UK's public parks amounted to a crisis. The introduction of the UPP reflected HLF's view that investing in urban historic parks in these circumstances would offer a triple dividend of conservation, regeneration and improved quality of life for a significant element of the UK's population".[138]

They go on to say: "The Programme has been enormously popular. Against an original estimate of £50 million over three years, to date, HLF has received 462 applications and has awarded £117 million in grants. This figure includes £1.6 million for 128 restoration plans, and £115 million for implementation of 93 projects".[139] Finally they point out that only one scheme has so far been completed, and none has been fully evaluated.[140]

130. During our visit to Greater Manchester, considerable enthusiasm was expressed for the scheme, but there were problems. Among those put forward were the fact that: local authorities sometimes lack the expertise to put forward good bids; unsuccessful bids still take a lot of work and leave local 'friends' groups very disappointed; because of fund-matching, a successful bid ties up park resources for years to come on a single park; local authorities tend to put forward their largest eligible park for a bid, because a bid for small parks requires almost as much effort. Therefore smaller parks, even if in greater need of renovation, are neglected.

131. It might seem as if a great deal is happening, but we need to remember the scale of the problem. There are at least 5,000 major local authority parks. So far, HLF money has only assisted in 93 implementation projects[141] to the tune of £115m. The Central Council of Physical Recreation reminded us that the principle of additionality should apply and lottery funding should not be used to replace local authority spending.[142] HLF is not the only source of funds for parks. Quite a lot has also been found from urban regeneration programmes such as the Single Regeneration Budget and section 106 agreements.

132. We were also told about the New Opportunities Fund (NOF)[143] and their 'Green Spaces and Sustainable Communities' initiative. HLF told us they were drawing up guidance for bids for this initiative[144] as recommended by the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee.[145] We understand the temptation for this new funding body to go for large projects, since this makes for easy administration and keeps their administrative cost low, but we would remind them that in many cases it is the small local parks which are the most important locally, particularly to disadvantaged local communities.

133. A substantial amount of the New Opportunity Funds should be spent on parks. The funds should go to small local parks as well as to major parks.

134. It should also be borne in mind that rejuvenating a rundown park does not necessarily involve spending big money. On our visit to Oldham we saw that Stoneleigh Park had been totally rejuvenated and we were told similar improvements had been made at Foxdenton and Hollinwood parks. This transformation was not the result of major grants nor new Council spending, but had been achieved by imaginative reallocation of existing resources.[146]

Green Flag Awards

135. The Green Flag Parks Award scheme was launched in 1996, and was designed to recognise and encourage good quality public parks in England. Originally planned by the Pesticides Trust, its aim was to draw attention to good environmental practice in park management and to promote ways of managing public places without the use of pesticides.[147] The first awards were made in 1997.

136. The scope of the award was quickly broadened in conjunction with the Institute for Leisure and Amenity Management and English Nature. The purpose of the award now is to help establish agreed all-round standards that reflect, not just the safer environmental qualities of reduced pesticide use and environmentally sound management, but also the social value of a good park.

137. The criteria for granting a Green Flag Park Award were established after a long process of consultation and debate. They are grouped under eight main headings:

  • how to create a sense that people are positively welcomed into a park;
  • how best to ensure that the park is a safe and healthy environment;
  • what people can expect to find in the way of standards of cleanliness, facilities and maintenance;
  • how a park can be managed in environmentally sensitive ways;
  • the value of conservation and care of historic heritage;
  • ways of encouraging community involvement;
  • methods of promoting or marketing a park; and
  • how to reflect all of the above in a coherent and accessible management plan, statement or strategy.

138. An award is made to individual parks, not to managing authorities, and applies for one year. The award can be withdrawn if the park falls below the standards expected. Unsuccessful applicants receive feedback, and award-winners are also informed of any shortcomings which are subsequently found. They will be expected to address them in order to hold on to the award.

139. The number of Green Flag Park award-holding parks rose from 7 in the 1997-98 period to 16 in 1998-99. In 1999 the number of applications doubled from the previous year to 46. It is clear that interest in the scheme is growing rapidly and enthusiasm for the award is high. Organisers feel that the awards have proved themselves to be a major catalyst in the improvement of parks and the delivery of high quality services.

140. We believe that all involved in setting up and running the Green Flag scheme for parks are to be congratulated. Its functions should, in due course, be co-ordinated with the work of a national agency.

'Friends' Schemes

141. We received written evidence from four groups who specifically called themselves a Friends group (the Friends of Barnford Park, the Friends of Dunloran Park, the Friends of Clapham Common, and the Friends of Heaton Moor Park).[148] We also met representatives from two groups during our visit to Manchester, the Friends of Platt Fields and the Friends of Wythenshawe Park; heard evidence from local groups who, while they did not call themselves 'Friends', took an interest in a specific local park (the Handsworth Park Association and the Yardley Neighbourhood Forum);[149] and received evidence from a park 'Friend' who wrote in as an individual.[150] Walsall

MBC described their recent success at expanding Friends of Parks groups from 2 to 14 in their area.[151]

142. The 'Friends' concept is not new. During our visit to Manchester it was pointed out that the Friends of Fletcher Moss Park, one of Manchester's most treasured parks, had been in existence for over 20 years. 'Friends' groups come into being for all sorts of reasons—threats to part or all of a valued local park; concern about neglect; a wish to offer voluntary support; and, particularly in recent times, as a means of proving that a lottery bid has local support or in order to provide a focus for Council discussions on Best Value proposals. Just as the groups have come into being in different ways they obviously operate very differently. So Mr Cooper of Friends of Platt Fields group, in conversation with us stressed the Friends' role in negotiating with the Council, and showed us the new equipment the group had bought for teenagers to use. Other groups clearly feel their main role is to pressurise their local council to do its job and look after their local park. In a very useful piece of written evidence, Mrs M Lerigo, Voluntary Community Garden Worker, demonstrated what volunteers could achieve in Whitstable, and also stressed how voluntary groups could use the 'New Opportunities Scheme' to offer jobs to young people to do environmental work.[152]

143. Groups such as these do valuable work as supporters and advocates. Nevertheless, a note of caution should be sounded. Anxieties raised by witnesses included fears that a vocal 'Friends' group could attempt to preserve the park for very narrow interests,[153] but perhaps the most worrying aspect of the 'Friends' movement is that in some cases the park is being transferred from the Council to a Trust composed of 'Friends'.

144. This is the situation, for example, with the Botanical Gardens in Sheffield. Friends of the Botanical Gardens were instrumental in establishing the Sheffield Botanical Garden Trust to assist in raising the £1.2 million matched funding required by the HLF for the restoration and refurbishment of these historic gardens. The reason for this was that one major source of funding, the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme, can only be paid to non-statutory bodies. Sheffield City Council told us[154] that voluntary and community groups in Sheffield had benefited by approximately £650,000 from environmental bodies set up with Landfill Tax Credit Scheme money, and about £425,000 is directly for projects in the Council's parks.

145. We fully understand why Councils may want to encourage 'Friends' groups to become Trusts, in order to get around the funding rules of the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme, but we have reservations that should be noted.

146. Councils need to look very carefully at the way standalone Trusts are established for the maintenance and management of parks, and be certain they understand the needs for insurance, proper accounting and auditing, and are clear on ethical issues such as jobbery.

147. We also believe the present funding pressures are unduly influencing some 'Friends' groups to take on roles which are more onerous than they would wish.

Halting Decline 2: Alternative Proposals

Statutory Duty and/or Mandatory Spending?

148. Several witnesses argued that local authorities should have a statutory duty to provide parks. Among these were the Landscape Institute and the Institute of Historic Building Conservation.[155] However, we do not see that this would resolve the problems associated with parks. As the Institute of Leisure and Amenity Management pointed out, the existence of a statutory duty "was not necessary for their [parks'] creation in poorer times".[156] There is also a basic problem with this idea, which the Head of Manchester Leisure, Mr Jim Bryne, highlighted:

"It is very easy for legislation to be put on statute which puts requirements and responsibilities on authorities without necessarily there being any funding which comes alongside that ... what you end up with is responsibility without power".[157]

The same arguments apply to the issue of statutory protection for parks.

149. We see no point in legislating for a statutory duty to provide and maintain parks, nor to give statutory protection to parks.

150. Another suggestion is that parks expenditure should be specified in the Standard Spending Assessment. The Victorian Society,[158] the Landscape Institute,[159] and the Wildlife Trusts and Urban Wildlife Partnership[160] all favoured this approach. The Local Government Association, however, did not believe in ring fencing, as their representative Councillor Heinitz told us.[161] If local government is to mean that local people have choices, rather than merely administer central government policy, they must be able to choose about issues such as parks. Of course, the Milton Keynes Park Trust[162] explained the advantage of having a trust fund and guaranteed income for parks; even so we do not think that ring-fencing can be justified.[163]

151. The Committee believes that the number and quality of parks, and the amount of money expended on them, must be matters for local decision.

  152. There may be cases where a local authority has a park of national and/or historic significance in its area which it judges local people no longer need, or which requires transformation if it is to meet modern local needs (a transformation that would entail its historical value being lost). In these cases, we believe, English Heritage, the National Trust, or concerned people across the country should consider whether they should pay for and manage the park in the national interest (if it is to be retained in its historic format). Such cases will be rare.

A Landscape Heritage Trust?

153. At the same time as our inquiry was underway, Price Waterhouse Coopers were undertaking a feasibility study into the idea of a Landscape Heritage Trust. At the close of our inquiry they arranged a presentation for us. Crucially, the feasibility study concluded that "the financial implications of meeting the needs of the UK parks, gardens, and designated landscapes will define the final route for the organisation's implementation and creation". We believe that if a very large non-governmental source of finance is available the idea might work, but it would take a long time for such a body to establish a national reputation.

154. If a Trust would need to raise a substantial proportion of its revenues from grants from government bodies such as the Countryside Agency or English Heritage, we believe that such money would be better used directly to fund a national agency. As a second best, however, it would be able to do some of the work that needs to be done to halt the decline of urban parks.

Halting Decline 3: The Way Forward

Redefining 'Best Value'

155. We do not believe that the decline of parks over the last 30 years has been a result of deliberate policy. It seems rather to be the unforeseen consequence of cuts in local authority resources, the reallocation of priorities, and ineffectual adoption of Compulsory Competitive Tendering.

156. The problem with Compulsory Competitive Tendering is that, while claiming to achieve value-for-money, it defines 'value' in very limited terms. If Best Value is to work, it needs to encompass a wide range of issues which are vital to the success of local parks, and to give people real and informed choices about their local amenities.

157. It is clear that many people care about their parks. Councillor Brelsford from Sheffield City Council assured us that "there is a public demand". "In the run up to the local elections in Sheffield," he said, "there were extensive surveys done, and it was seen that the public of Sheffield very much said that parks and their maintenance was a major priority for them. It came in the top three issues".[164]

158. The proliferation of 'Friends' groups, which we discussed earlier, confirms this point. A consultation exercise in Solihull demonstrated that local people wanted to be involved in informal park action groups;[165] Bristol City Council told us that one of their strategic aims was "to involve people in Bristol's parks and increase park usage";[166] Walsall MBC headed their memorandum Local Involvement Programme, Parks Service and listed in their successes the establishment of 14 'Friends' groups and a network for such groups.[167] As part of the Best Value process, each local authority ought to have consulted these groups and other local people, and should have continuously involved them in discussions.

159. An overriding strategy for parks and open spaces is needed as a key component of Local Cultural Strategies. However, these designed landscapes of living natural elements and built structures are unlike other forms of cultural provision and need a strategic approach with their own Master Plan setting out how they are to be managed. Such a Master Plan for the whole authority should show how resources are to be prioritised across the whole greenspace system. It is important, too, that people should be able to see this plan.

160. The Local Government Association was quick to point out that it is a new body, and not responsible for the failures of its predecessors. Their representative, Councillor Heinitz, assured us they were now taking the issue seriously, telling us that he "would expect [the LGA] to be working to produce documents on good practice for our member authorities".[168]

161. We expect the Local Government Association to give a clear lead on how local park strategies will work under Best Value. They also need to lead on local involvement and devise means whereby local users can easily understand strategic documents and be able to compare the parks in one authority with those in another authority.

162. The Master Plan should specify all aspects of each park, among other things describing: its size; whether it is intended for local use, area, authority-wide or regional use; the age-group it is aimed at and whether it has facilities for toddlers' play, children's play, teenage facilities, games (five a side football, basket-ball, roller-skating, bowls, tennis etc.), or animals (pets corner); whether it has flower displays and landscape features; and what statues, monuments and buildings it contains.

163. The Master Plan should include a maintenance schedule covering such things as planting, weeding, grass-cutting, litter- and graffiti-removal. It should feature strategies for dealing with 'people problems' such as vandalism, dog fouling and hooliganism, and there should be an effective policy for policing the park. For each park there ought to be an investment programme which lists what work will be done over the next 10 years with a view to ensuring over that period of time that the park appreciates in value rather than deteriorates. This should include planned maintenance for paths, buildings and fences. As part of Best Value a local authority ought to know how much money it needs to keep each park or greenspace to two standards—a high standard and a minimum acceptable standard—and be able to say how much money it actually intends to spend.

164. In this way, Councillors and local people will be able to see what the authority is trying to do. In other words, Best Value must not be about a national minimum standard, but about local people being able to see clearly the effects of local spending decisions on their own parks or recreation grounds.

165. In implementing Best Value, we expect all local authorities to have a Master Plan for parks and greenspace and to ensure that local people, as well as members of the Council, have easy access to a regularly updated version of it. Local authorities should use the Master Plan to show how their parks address the many cross-cutting issues which both Government and the Local Government Association are promoting such as sustainable development, life long learning, crime and disorder and social exclusion. The public should also have easy access to detailed plans for each park or small group of greenspaces and know what budget is allocated to each one. Any nationally set Government service indicators should also take this into account.

166. It is the Committee's intention to look at the work of the Audit Commission in the near future. However, we have to note here that it has not been effective in monitoring parks. We find it astonishing that the Commission does not know how many people use parks, and therefore cannot even start to answer the questions about value for money. Interestingly, it did not feel it had any evidence to submit to this Inquiry.

167. In monitoring Best Value we expect the Audit Commission to look at the quality of local information and decision-making process, as well as customer-use and satisfaction of parks.

168. We believe that Best Value must be the effective way for local people to exercise influence over parks. We also believe that there needs to be an effective national voice to offer advice and guidance. Improvements in parks should therefore come from both below and above.

An Urban Parks and Greenspaces Agency

169. Several witnesses were concerned that responsibility for parks fell between the DETR and the DCMS, but was not adequately covered by either.[169] The Landscape Institute told us: "There is no Government Minister, no department unit, and no national body directly responsible for urban parks and open spaces".[170] At present any "negative trends are unmonitored by any outside agency able to advance the art and science of parks' care, offer grant aid for new initiatives, create strategic partnerships or influence government policy towards public parks. This is in marked contrast to sports, museums and art services where major national agencies support local authorities and help to defend their budget cuts".[171] Similarly, the Local Government Association said: "Parks suffer from a lack of creditable support from a national agency with a remit for parks. The Sports Council and Arts Council offer advice and financial support, whilst the Countryside Commission [now Agency] champions the cause of land in more rural situations. Museums are supported by the Museums and Galleries Commission and Area Museum Services".[172]

170. There was some opposition, however, to the idea of establishing a parks agency. Mr Worpole was one of those unsympathetic to the idea: "I am an urbanist I suppose," he said, "and I have resisted notions that there might need to be a dedicated Parks Agency in the DETR because I think parks are central to urbanity".[173] Later he added: "My worry is if there is a specialist parks unit in the DETR it will be dominated by parks professionals who often have vested interests ... my version of the good park is very much about popular use".[174] The Minister was also so far unconvinced about the value of a national parks agency. He claimed that all responsibility for parks had been devolved to local authorities and argued that the creation of an Agency would take powers away from local government.[175]

171. These voices were in the minority, however. In general there was strong support for the idea of setting up an agency for parks. The Department of Landscape at the University of Sheffield argued the point eloquently:

"It seems extraordinary that in a society as urbanised as the UK, there is no equivalent body to the Countryside Commission to fight the corner for public parks. If we are serious about energy issues, etc, we need to try and encourage people to take their leisure near where they live not in some romanticised countryside".[176]

172. The Institute of Leisure and Amenity Management demonstrated how the Countryside Commission had helped create country parks, and argued that an Urban Parks Agency could have the same role as enabler and catalyst. Several local authorities including Sheffield City Council, Solihull MBC, Bristol City, Stockport MBC, and Newham MBC advocated the creation of an agency.[177] Peter Goodchild of Landscapes and Gardens, Department of Archaeology at York University, stressed the role a central body could perform in developing educational interest in Parks.[178] The view was energetically sponsored by Theresa Grant, the General Manager of Heaton Park Manchester, on behalf of the Urban Parks Forum. Asked what a national agency would do, she said: "Personally, I would like to see it as an all singing and all dancing agency with real power that could take control of the decline of urban and country parks".[179] Mr Coleman of the Countryside Agency also thought there was a 'gap' or a "grey area where we [the Countryside Agency] have to stop and not claim to be the champions for urban green spaces".[180] He went on to say that "there would be a great benefit in having a national champion ... it would make some sense to make it responsible for urban parks and urban green space".[181]

173. The argument for a National Urban Parks and Greenspaces Agency can be presented on both 'weak' and 'strong' grounds. At the least it can be argued that most of the other areas of a local authority's remit have a national champion, and that parks should be likewise represented. At its strongest it can be argued that agencies provide not only funds but a great deal of 'added value' in terms of help and guidance to local authorities.

174. The case for establishing a National Urban Parks and Greenspaces Agency ultimately rests on several arguments:

  • Parks are a national asset that has been taken for granted for too long. It is being increasingly recognised that parks make a valuable contribution to urban living. Parks could be used as part of a British prospectus for an attractive green environment for people to invest in. An Agency will ensure that these important assets are nurtured and used to their full potential in urban regeneration, making our towns and cities attractive places to live in.
  • Parks and greenspaces amount to around 14 per cent of the developed land area. Such an area must be well looked after if it is to remain an attractive feature of urban living.
  • Parks have been under-funded for some time. New sources of funding have to be tapped, and ways of optimising existing funding have to be developed.
  • We have to ensure that parks are recognised as a major element in urban regeneration. An expert body able to advise government and local authorities on the role of parks in regeneration would be valuable in this respect.
  • An Agency would improve the level of understanding and expertise within local authorities, restore skills at both craft and managerial levels, provide a framework for delivering NVQs, define occupational standards, and, via partnership with local authorities, build up a body of knowledge that can be made available through courses and publications.
  • An Agency would facilitate a national interchange of ideas from 'Friends' groups and be a champion for park users.
  • Above all an Agency ought to be able (a) to give expert advice to Government and Ministers and (b) to offer a lead to local authorities, particularly in implementing Best Value.

175. We believe that there is a good case for the establishment of a new Agency, which should be known as 'The Urban Parks and Greenspaces Agency.' We believe the Government should make a commitment to such an Agency in its forthcoming Urban White Paper.

176. However we did not receive much detailed evidence about the range and scope such an agency would ideally have. Our advisers have sought to fill this gap by setting out a concept for an agency and some of the issues that have to be resolved. This can be found as an appendix to this report.

177. While in theory Ministers could decide now what the specific roles such an Agency should assume, we believe it might be best to proceed more slowly.

178. The first stage should be a government announcement in its urban white paper heralding the establishment of an Urban Parks and Greenspaces Agency. The second stage would be to set up an Urban Parks and Greenspaces Review Committee to do the preparatory work and produce a report. The third stage would be that the Government then establishes the Agency, taking into account the Review Committee Report.

179. The advantage of such a procedure is that, while establishing a new Urban Parks and Greenspaces Agency would need primary legislation, a review committee could be set up quickly and start on many of the tasks an Agency ought to be doing. This preparatory work would include:

  • raising public awareness of the problems and successes of parks;
  • gathering basic information about the number, overall condition and use of parks;
  • co-ordinating national criteria for 'Best Value';
  • disseminating best practice; and giving Friends of Parks Groups a focus.
  • It could also feed into all the government initiatives for urban regeneration, though of course it would need resources to do this.

180. We do not believe primary legislation should, or needs to, set out details of how an Agency would work. In legislation during this coming session, the Government should take powers to establish the principle. Once the Review Committee has produced a report, the Agency could be established using regulation conferred by that legislation. We believe an evolutionary approach such as this is essential because parks need help now.


181. We are shocked at the weight of evidence, far beyond our expectations, about the extent of the problems parks have faced in the last 30 years. It is clear that if nothing is done many of them will become albatrosses around the necks of local authorities. Un-used, derelict havens for crime and vandalism, it would be better to close them and re-use the land than to leave them to decay further. We agree with Jane Stoneham and Tony Kendle when they say: "We have inherited an infrastructure of parks of priceless value and their documented and visible decline represents a wasted opportunity of tragic proportions".[182]

182. We pay tribute to the small band of enthusiasts who for the last ten years have been spreading this message. At last they are being heard.

183. However, we believe there are two major obstacles that have to be overcome before our parks will be reinvigorated—these are: finding enough money for capital projects to replace or refurbish the worn out Victorian and Edwardian capital structures; and restoring the levels of expenditure that local authorities enjoyed in earlier years. Obviously lottery money via the HLF, the New Opportunities Fund and Millennium Grants is welcome. So, too, is money from the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme, but such money is not enough.

184. We call on the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when looking at any new green tax designed to change people's patterns of consumption, to consider earmarking a substantial sum so that a major investment can take place in our parks. Such a programme would also offer good employment and training opportunities.

185. While we do not believe in earmarking government finance to local authorities, we do believe the Government ought to help local authorities find ways to reverse cutbacks in park maintenance. It should recognise:

  • that the amount of greenspace most local authorities have to manage has increased very substantially in the last 30 years;
  • that funding has not kept pace with these increased needs;
  • that if our urban areas are to be attractive places, parks and greenspaces must be well maintained; and
  • that since an increasing proportion of the population will be living in towns and cities, parks will become even more important.

126   TCP 17 Ev p. 39 Back

127   TCP 16 Ev p. 37 Back

128   TCP 16 Ev p. 37 Back

129   TCP 11, Ev p. 22 Back

130   TCP 27 Ev p. 62 para 1.6 Back

131   Q 66 Back

132   Q 671 Back

133   TCP 22 Ev p. 52 Back

134   TCP 54 Ev p. 139 Back

135   In the wake of the 1987 and 1990 storms, English Heritage and the Countryside Commission made offers of grants totalling more than £4m [Source: English Heritage, October 1997, After the Storms, also see TCP 54 Ev p. 139 para 5.4] Back

136   TCP 22 Ev p. 52 para 4.4 Back

137   TCP 54 Ev p. 137 Back

138   TCP 54 Ev p. 137 para 2.1 Back

139   TCP 54 Ev p. 137 para 2.3 - the latest figures at the time of going to print were: £1.9m for 130 restoration plans and £148m for 122 implementation projects Back

140   TCP 54 Ev p. 139 para 6.1 Back

141   The other 128 grant awards made were towards the cost of producing Landscape Heritage Restoration Plans, not for restoration itself. The award of these grants has had the effect of raising expectations Back

142   TCP 11 Ev p. 23 Back

143   Q 669; TCP 64 para 14; TCP 65 Back

144   TCP 54 Ev p. 140, para 6.4,  Back

145   HC 195-I Back

146   TCP 66b (Appendices to Mins of Ev, HC477-III) Back

147   TCP 56 Back

148   TCP 2, 20, 72, 74 Back

149   TCP 33, 40 Back

150   TCP 1 Back

151   TCP 50 Ev p. 127 Back

152   TCP 52 Ev p. 132 Back

153   Q 64 Back

154   TCP 41 a - Appendices to the Mins of Ev (HC477-III) Back

155   TCP Ev 44 pp. 107 and 108 para 12.2; TCP 47 Ev p. 117 Back

156   TCP 12 Ev p. 25, para 18 Back

157   Q 212 Back

158   TCP 18 Ev pp. 41 para 5.3 and 4 2 para 6.2 Back

159   TCP 44 Ev p. 108 para 12.3, Back

160   TCP 45 Ev p. 111 para 10 Back

161   Q 82 Back

162   TCP 3 Back

163   We deal with these issues at length in our report on Local Government Expenditure - HC78-I Back

164   Q 149 Back

165   TCP 51 Ev p. 132  Back

166   TCP 13 Ev p. 29 Back

167   TCP 50 Ev p. 127 Back

168   Q 102 Back

169   Q 102; TCP 8 Ev p. 19 Back

170   TCP 44 Ev p. 107 para 12.1 Back

171   TCP 43 Ev p. 103 Back

172   TCP 48 Ev p. 120 para 7.1 Back

173   Q 67 Back

174   QQ 68&69 Back

175   Q 622 - also see QQ 616&664 Back

176   TCP 32, Ev p 69 Back

177   Respectively TCP 12 Ev pp. 25-6; TCP 34 Ev p. 79; TCP 41 Ev p. 96; TCP 51 Ev p. 132; TCP 13 Ev p. 31 and TCP 16 Ev p. 37 Back

178   TCP 5 Ev p. 8 Back

179   Q 359 Back

180   Q 415 Back

181   Q 416 Back

182   TCP 21 Ev p. 50 Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1999
Prepared 8 November 1999