AN URBAN PARKS AND GREEN SPACES AGENCY
Memoranda and verbal evidence submitted to the House
of Commons Environment Sub-committee Inquiry into Town and Country
Parks demonstrate a broad and growing consensus amongst a wide
range of concerned organisations about the need for a national
champion for parks and green spaces.
The key arguments for the creation of an Urban Parks and Green
Spaces Agency are set out in the Committee's Report.
Specialist National Agencies, set up by successive
Governments and popularly known as 'quangos', play an important
role in the administration of Britain's public realm. The influence
of the national agencies such as the Sports and Arts Councils,
the Countryside Commission (now Countryside Agency), English Heritage
and the Museums & Galleries Commission (soon to be the Museums,
Libraries and Archives Commission) has been key in raising the
profile of their relevant services, in providing advice to local
authorities and, in most cases, awarding grants. These national
agencies are also a key source of advice to central government
and possess substantial lobbying power. They invest in research
and teaching to raise the level of scholarship and knowledge in
their respective fields. For example, the need to retain registration
and designations under the Museums and Galleries Commission scheme
has helped persuade many local authorities to look elsewhere for
savings. Similarly, the Sports Councils are deeply involved in
schemes which identify and reward quality in local authority provision.
The lack of such strategic support for public parks and green
spaces has placed this service at increasing disadvantage. The
maintenance of parks and green spaces is often the single largest
heading in the leisure services budget and cuts are less noticeable
where they do not trigger the immediate closure of facilities.
Free entry to parks means that few authorities have any real idea
of the numbers using this facility and no immediate or obvious
penalty is paid if visitor numbers decline. Perhaps most insidious
is the decline in skills, professional expertise and scholarship
within local authorities to an extent that many fail to appreciate
fully the scale of the decline over which they preside.
A new agency would work with local authorities and
other regional and national agencies to enhance the economic,
environmental and social value of urban parks and green spaces
for the long-term benefit of places and people. It would not
replace, or in any way diminish, the responsibilities of local
authorities in providing and maintaining parks and green spaces.
The new body would not own or manage any such land directly.
SCOPE OF ACTIVITY
'Urban parks and green spaces' should include all
such spaces freely accessible to the public for recreation in
its broadest sense i.e. urban parks, recreation grounds, playing
fields, burial grounds and cemeteries, woodlands, water bodies
within public green spaces, amenity greens, greenways, commons
The proposed agency would be similar in design and
purpose to several national agencies already operational in comparable
areas of activity. Accordingly, the following aims for the Urban
Parks and Green Spaces Agency have been based on the terms of
reference of national agencies already established in other sectors.
1. to promote the importance and benefit of high
quality parks and green spaces in our towns and cities (CABE)
2. to encourage the understanding of parks and
green spaces through educational initiatives and grant programmes,
promoting community involvement (CABE)
3. to have a key strategic role as a champion
and standard-setter for its sector and the prime source of advice
to Government, (MLAC)
4. to establish links with other national bodies
such as the Lottery Distribution Bodies and the National Agencies
for Sport, Arts, Countryside, Heritage and Nature Conservation
in policy formulation (MLAC)
5. to be a funding body and have the opportunity
to operate challenge funding initiatives across the sector (MLAC).
6. to have an international perspective, researching
good practice overseas and ensuring that full advantage is taken
of EU and other sources of funding. (MLAC+)
7. to strive to ensure that parks and green spaces
are known to and widely used by all as key resources for health
and personal fitness, community development, lifelong learning,
economic development and enjoyment. (MLAC)
8. to promote social equity and economic opportunity
for the people to enjoy these local and national assets (CA)
9. to lead with research and advice through liaison
and support of the research and academic community, ensuring research
is relevant and informs good practice (CA+)
10. to focus on the social, economic and environmental
well-being of the urban landscape at all levels - from the biggest
city to the smallest neighbourhood, involving business and in
the voluntary sector (CA)
11. to raise awareness about environmental issues
by educating and informing people (EA)
12. to protect and improve the environment and
contribute towards sustainable development through the integrated
management of parks and green spaces (EA)
It will be for the Agency to determine the tasks
it should undertake in order to pursue the above objectives. However,
the following are some suggestions:
1. Help to develop the Green Flag Park Awards
into a comprehensive standard for quality parks
2. Produce a guide on the legal aspects to the
provision and management of parks and green spaces, including
a comprehensive interpretation of the duty of care placed on parks
3. develop a methodology for conducting environmental,
social and economic impact assessments for parks and green spaces
and institute a major research programme into the benefits of
parks and green spaces to places and people
4. develop innovative partnership programmes
of grant aid to local authorities to encourage greater public
use and appreciation of parks and green spaces
5. develop programmes to promote good health
and widen the educational role of parks
6. develop a national database of parks and green
7. produce guidance to local authorities in the
development of strategies for achieving best value and promoting
local agenda 21.
8. monitor the stewardship of local authorities
and publish an annual report to the Secretary of State for the
Environment, Transport and the Regions.
The budget for a new agency will depend on whether
it is to be a grant making body or an advisory body. This proposal
assumes a grant-making body. It is necessary to back up policy
advice with grant-aid if that advice is to be effective. Respondents
to the House of Commons Environment Sub-committee Inquiry into
Town and Country Parks made clear the decline in budgets suffered
by parks and open spaces and argued that at least a partial re-instatement
of the lost resources is needed. To be effective, a new national
agency would need a budget comparable with other agencies in the
field - ie between £30-50m p.a. Such a budget would still
be substantially less than the budgets of such organisations as
English Heritage and the combined Sports Councils and significantly
less than the funds lost to parks.
A review should be set up to explore the feasibility
of a national Urban Parks and Greenspaces Agency and would need
to resolve the following issues:
Should a new national agency for urban
parks and green spaces -
1. be responsible to the Department of the Environment,
Transport and the Regions or the Department for Culture, Media
2. be established under Royal Charter as per
Museums & Galleries Commission, Sports Council?
3. be for England, England & Wales or whole
4. have any formal relationship with The Royal
5. be a grant awarding body?
6. take a direct responsibility for the Green
Flag Park Award Scheme?
7. have a regional structure for England?
In addition to the above, there are broader questions
such as how the new body will be funded and how it will relate
to the work of other agencies. For example, the new body would
be expected to work closely with English Nature, English Heritage,
Sport England, the Environment Agency and the Countryside Agency.
In respect of the latter agency, the responsibility for country
parks would need to be considered. And there is also the issue
of whether a new national agency should be responsible for the
work of Groundwork and the National Urban Forestry Unit.
If the agency is to be UK wide, consideration would
also have to be given to the work of parallel organisations in
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, whose remit, priorities
and actions may become increasingly divergent under new governmental
structures. It is, for example, interesting to note that Scottish
Natural Heritage has just supported the production of a Parks
and Open Spaces Strategy for Dundee.
A further question is what role, if any, the new
agency should play in the administration of lottery funds for
parks and green spaces e.g. Heritage Lottery Fund's Urban Parks
Programme and the New Opportunities Fund's 'Green Spaces and Sustainable
Communities' initiative. Lottery money for sport and the arts
is administered directly by the national agencies but a new agency
could work closely with the Heritage Lottery Fund and the New
Opportunities Fund without taking direct responsibility for the
Alan Barber & David Lambert
183 Key: MLAC = Museums, Libraries and Archives Commission.
CABE = Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment.
CA = Countryside Agency. EA = Environment Agency. The sign
+ shows where there is significant amendment i.e. more than a
simple substitution of the words 'parks and green spaces' Back