Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Twentieth Report

  • 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 (paragraph 22).

  • 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 (paragraph 29).

  • 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 (paragraph 30).

  • 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. 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 (paragraph 56).

  • We believe that municipal parks should retain their integrity and historic character. However, if they are to have an exciting future larger parks should seek to regain their function as places for entertainment and formal and informal games. City farms and wildlife areas also have an important role to play in our towns, especially in the educational sphere. They need to be looked after and developed alongside municipal parks (paragraph 77).

  • Urgent action is needed to find effective ways of stopping the loss and neglect of park ornaments and ornamental buildings (paragraph 92).

  • Making parks safe, and making them feel safe, must be a priority for local authorities. Plans for park safety should be included in all local authority Crime and Disorder Strategies (paragraph 97).

  • If the decline of parks is to be arrested and reversed it is essential that there should be sufficient high quality staff. We believe this is an area the Local Government Association ought to be looking at urgently, and which ultimately ought to be dealt with by a National Agency (paragraph 113).

  • 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 (paragraph 117).

  • 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 (paragraph 122).

  • 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 (paragraph 127).

  • 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 (paragraph 133).

  • 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 (paragraph 140).

  • 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 (paragraph 146).

  • 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 (paragraph 147).
  • We see no point in legislating for a statutory duty to provide and maintain parks, nor to give statutory protection to parks (paragraph 149).

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

  • 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 (paragraph 161).

  • 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 (paragraph 165).

  • 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 (paragraph 166).

  • 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 (paragraph 167).

  • 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 (paragraph 175).

  • 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 (paragraph 178).

  • 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 (paragraph 180).

  • 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 (paragraph 184).

  • 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 (paragraph 185).

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