Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda


Memorandum by Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council Community Services Division (TCP 34)

  From the outset this memorandum will assume that the inquiry includes within its remit greenspace in general, and that in addition to town and country parks, areas such as river valleys, disused railway lines, closed churchyards, allotments, local nature reserves and green corridors will be incorporated into an integrated approach to greenspace policy.

INTRODUCTION

  The arrangements to raise the profile of greenspace on the political agenda have been articulated clearly in many important publications, in particular: "Parklife, Urban Parks and Social Renewal" (Comedia/Demos); "People, Parks and Cities" (Department of Environment); "Greening the city" (Department of Environment) etc. The views expounded in these publications are just as relevant today as they were in 1995. Many Local Authorities and voluntary organisations have clearly risen to the challenge as set out in the documents and a higher quality of management aspiration and practice has resulted. There has, however, been seemingly little progress or change from central government perspective. The reports call clearly and convincingly for an end to the "political invisibility" of greenspace, to the real importance of local greenspace to its people and communities compared with other forms of provision, and the need to put greenspace at the heart of planning and regeneration policy-not for it to be an after thought. The call for a government unit to disseminate good practice, to co-ordinate policy and funding and provide central services (similar to those for sport, heritage or arts) has been largely ignored, leaving greenspace renewal and funding a hit or miss affair.

  Clearly there is an expectation that this inquiry will result in the development of an intelligent holistic approach by central government to inform and support those dealing with the complex and crucial social issues surrounding greenspace management. If so, this will be the first government, probably since the Victorian era, with the wit and wisdom to recognise the critical role of greenspace in society. Despite the mounting waves of research evidence clearly signalling this crucial role, the "blindspot" at government level is then propagated to local and regional level. The report "Urban Renaissance" of the Urban Task Force does not clearly identify the importance of greenspace, and has seemingly ignored this major cultural shift in urban society. The National Lottery funding programmes have made provision for greenspace development funding, but if this is not linked to central strategy in relation to planning policy, regeneration, neighbourhood renewal, crime and disorder, social exclusion, etc., long-term social benefit may not be achieved.

THE BENEFITS OF PUBLIC PARKS

  Greenspace at its best should be at the heart of the community and its leisure provision. However, many such spaces are rooted in provision for former generations and are often irrelevant or only partly providing for today's needs. Many are "green deserts" providing for (largely male) sports for a few hours per week, others are in a spiral of decline, un-staffed and neglected.However, where good quality public parks are managed well they can be at the wellspring of community spirit.

SOCIAL BENEFITS

    —  Accessibility to all ages, genders, races, religions, etc.

    —  Provide space for vigorous and noisy activity—acts as a social safety valve.

    —  Ability to absorb crowds especially large groups of young people away from streets/shopping centres, etc.

    —  Events, large and small throughout the year.

    —  Play and family activity in greenspace contributing to building strong families.

    —  A huge range of educational opportunities can be met.

    —  Promotes ethnic and social harmony.

    —  Children's play is essential to the human development process—children should be encouraged to express themselves through play.

    —  Facilities for sport, recreation and leisure.

    —  Health promotion and healthy living centres.

    —  Community arts, sculpture parks, etc.

    —  Relaxation, contemplation and passive recreation is essential to stress management in today's busy world—recent evidence has brought to light the extraordinary role that good quality greenspace plays in relieving stress and promoting physical and mental health not only of individuals but the well being of the community—quality greenspace is often absent from problem neighbourhoods.

    —  Greenspace issues can unite the whole community and can be the focus of community development and local regeneration fostering a sense of community pride.

ECONOMIC BENEFITS

    —  Quality greenspace contributes greatly to the value of a neighbourhood and positively affects property value.

    —  Attractive areas bring inward investment and business retention.

    —  Greenspace has a central role in opportunities for economic regeneration.

    —  Can provide a wide range of employment opportunities as part of regeneration programme.

    —  Methods exist to calculate the true value of environmental capital of greenspace.

    —  The provision of meaningful leisure activities in greenspace can reduce the high cost of vandalism and criminal activity.

    —  Well managed greenspace can contribute to the tourism value of an area.

    —  Greenspace as a training resource can positively contribute to the skill levels of communities.


ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFITS

    —  Urban and public greenspace provides a sanctuary for wildlife and nature which are under pressure from agricommerce.

    —  Can provide good practice examples for local landowners.

    —  Small changes in environmental practice can easily provide a much greater range of species rich habitats.

    —  Trees and woodland can moderate effects of weather, provide great aesthetic and visual effects, provide havens for wildlife as well as absorb pollution and free radicals from the surrounding atmosphere and contribute significantly to the reduction in noise levels.

    —  Public greenspace is one of the few areas where biodiversity action planning is capable of being put into effect.

THE CONDITION OF PARKS

  Whilst many authorities have good quality major parks, the majority of public open space is in decline. The effect of CCT since 1988 has mainly been to provide substantial savings which have been used centrally rather than reinvested into greenspace. The lack of co-ordinated funding policies has left the relevant departments chasing funding from a range of sources—SRB, City Challenge, ESF, Lottery, Landfill tax, Countryside Agency grants, etc.

  The following problems apply to most public greenspace:

    —  infrastructure in decline—paths, pavilions, drains, etc., as a result of no investment for many years;

    —  perceived safety problems—no lighting, unstaffed, poor sight lines, etc;

    —  building vandalised, graffiti, haunts for local youths;

    —  facilities not relevant to today's needs, geared around horticultural specifications;

    —  young peoples provision practically non-existent;

    —  dog fouling over large areas makes many parks unusable for most other purposes;

    —  grounds maintenance staff have often become de-skilled and demotivated with mainly basic mechanised operations taking place.

THE ROLE OF DETR AND GOVERNMENT, ETC

    —  A centrally directed and co-ordinated approach to greenspace development and management is essential. There are many models to choose from, Sports Council, Arts Council, Countryside Agency, etc; which could result in a new agency or a sub-section of an existing agency. It is vital that the importance of greenspace to society is recognised and championed by government. Any new agency should involve all recognised and relevant organisations in the process.

FUNDING OF PUBLIC PARKS

    —  At present sources of funding are disparate; grounds maintenance funding is available but inadequate, development funding is essentially non-existent.

    —  There will need to be an acceptance of the principle that all public open space sites cannot provide top quality leisure facilities. Just as there is a need to search for new sources of funding, there is a need to look at new ways of managing greenspace including partnerships, devolved ownership, community ownership, charitable trust status, low cost maintenance and disposal for development. All options should be explored.

    —  In the same way indoor leisure has responded to the public's changes in leisure pursuits, funding should be made available to enable greenspace facilities to respond at the same rate.

    —  A policy of deciding strategically which land could be developed to raise funds for higher quality park provision must be recognised and pursued. These may require hard decisions which may not find favour locally.

    —  Many sites could become wildlife areas/nature reserves as low-cost public open space.

OTHER ISSUES OF CONCERN

  Anti-social behaviour: one of the major issues facing greenspace management is the wide range of anti-social behaviour problems. Experience proves that only a holistic approach can really tackle problems effectively. These include:

  Safety and security:

    —  CCTV cameras, night security patrols, lighting in parks, police initiatives, etc.

    —  Site presence on high profile sites (park-keepers, gardeners, etc). There is a new breed of park-keeper with a role in community involvement and liaison, events, etc., in addition to safety and hygiene of the park.

  Social intervention:

    —  Working with schools, environmental awareness, citizenship, training, planting schemes, "ownership" schemes.

    —  Community involvement, "friends of" schemes, parkwatch, etc.

    —  Modern apprentice schemes.

    —  New designs and maintained greenspace is more likely to be respected.

  Ranger services:

  Many authorities have established ranger services to undertake the wide range of duties required to manage greenspace effectively. These include dealing with anti-social behaviour, patrolling and inspection, events, community involvement, health promotion, fund raising, etc. Along with site based staff such as park-keepers, they are now seen as essential to good land management practice.

Local agenda 21 and Biodiversity

  Greenspace provides an easily accessible route to involve communities, schools and organisations into the Local Agenda 21 process. The role of urban greenspace in providing sanctuary for wildlife under pressure from agri-commerce should not be under-estimated, but this would involve habitat creation as part of a habitat development programme—and funding should be made available for this as a matter of urgency. These, and further issues are raised in Stockports Development plan "Valuing Greenspace".

CONCLUSION

    —  Greenspace should be central to government policy on urban and rural regeneration, environmental planning policy including LA21, social policies such as health promotion, sports promotion, social exclusion, etc. If a strong lead is given, local authorities and other organisations will soon realise its strategic importance.

    —  The role that parks and greenspaces play in our individual lives, our communities and in our surrounding environment cannot be understated .

    —  Civilisations are judged not only on the quality of their buildings and social institutions but on how they make use of public open space. How will our society be judged when viewing the range of derelict, slum parks on may housing estates throughout Britain?

CLOSING STATEMENT

  The Prime Minister in the booklet "Leading the way—A new vision for local government", champions a local government which would include:

    —  Developing a vision for the locality through community support in a range of areas including protecting our environment, developing centres of excellence for the arts and regeneration and revitalising town centres.

    —  Guarantee quality services for all through bringing back pride to towns and cities by by ensuring that the streets are clean, the grass is cut and parks are maintained.

  We look forward to the results of the inquiry with great interest.

April 1999


 
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Prepared 8 June 1999