Miscellaneous Causes for Concern
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.
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
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...".
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
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.
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".
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
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.
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.
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
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,
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
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
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
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
The HLF has so far received £1.35 billion, and awarded £117
million to park schemes.
"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".
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".
Finally they point out that only one scheme has so far been completed,
and none has been fully evaluated.
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,
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
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
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
and their 'Green Spaces and Sustainable Communities' initiative.
HLF told us they were drawing up guidance for bids for this initiative
as recommended by the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee.
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.
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.
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
- what people can expect to find in the way of
standards of cleanliness, facilities and maintenance;
- how a park can be managed in environmentally
- the value of conservation and care of historic
- 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.
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).
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
and received evidence from a park 'Friend' who wrote in as an
MBC described their recent success at expanding Friends
of Parks groups from 2 to 14 in their area.
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 reasonsthreats 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.
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,
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
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
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".
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".
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
150. Another suggestion is that parks expenditure
should be specified in the Standard Spending Assessment. The Victorian
the Landscape Institute,
and the Wildlife Trusts and Urban Wildlife Partnership
all favoured this approach. The Local Government Association,
however, did not believe in ring fencing, as their representative
Councillor Heinitz told us.
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
explained the advantage of having a trust fund and guaranteed
income for parks; even so we do not think that ring-fencing can
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
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".
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;
Bristol City Council told us that one of their strategic aims
was "to involve people in Bristol's parks and increase park
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.
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".
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
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 standardsa high standard
and a minimum acceptable standardand 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.
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".
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
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".
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".
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".
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.
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
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.
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.
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".
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".
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".
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. 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 reinvigoratedthese
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
- that funding has not kept pace with these
- 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
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TCP 54 Ev p. 139 Back
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
TCP 22 Ev p. 52 para 4.4 Back
TCP 54 Ev p. 137 Back
TCP 54 Ev p. 137 para 2.1 Back
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
TCP 54 Ev p. 139 para 6.1 Back
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
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Q 669; TCP 64 para 14; TCP 65 Back
TCP 54 Ev p. 140, para 6.4, Back
HC 195-I Back
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We deal with these issues at length in our report on Local Government
Expenditure - HC78-I Back
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