40.As with any shared asset, tensions can sometimes arise between different groups of park users, or between different uses to which parks are put. We acknowledge the strength of feeling in some communities about the events which take place in their local parks. Common themes in their concerns include the impact on community access to parks, disruption or nuisance to local communities, and damage to the park during or after the event. The University of Westminster told us that the negative impacts of events, for example noise, disruption and damage, are “usually temporary and can be managed, but the symbolic effects of exclusive events are more significant and enduring”. The Open Spaces Society highlighted an increase in the number of events being held in parks, and the impact on local communities who may be unable to access large areas in the park during set up, the event, and clear up. If multiple events are held during the summer period, for example, this can result in significant disruption. On the other hand, we understand the importance of such events for income generation for local authorities, and for the local economy. Live Nation Entertainment Inc noted that its parks events contribute to local culture, tourism, job creation, and supply chain benefits for local businesses.
41.We heard from some park user groups that they work with their local authorities to determine what events and activities would be appropriate for the park, but that the community may sometimes be dissatisfied with the decisions taken by the local authority to charge for events, the impact of events on the park, or the effect on particular groups of park users. For example, the Clissold Park User Group suggests that:
Local authorities are best placed to hold the ring against the demands of sectional interests which while often well-intentioned, nevertheless often define themselves against other park user interests—eg parents of young children versus dog walkers, sports enthusiasts versus quiet recreational users, cyclists versus pedestrians on the footpath network, residents of neighbouring streets who value beauty and tranquillity versus users from further afield attending sports events or community festivals.
42.Some witnesses told us that different parts of our communities may have different requirements for parks and green spaces, and that our parks may not currently be meeting those needs. Dr Bridget Snaith noted that in parks design and management, “we have unintentionally been creating and sustaining parks in ways that appeal most to white British people, overlooking the preferences of other ethnic groups”. She suggested that a consequence of this is that some sectors of the community may be less able to benefit from the health and wellbeing benefits which parks can provide. The London Borough of Camden told us that it could be challenging to balance the different demands on its parks, and ensure that the benefits to the environment and to communities were maximised:
This brings its own challenges however, particularly when working with small, heavily constrained green spaces, in which different functions are not always easily compatible and can lead to conflict. 34% of Camden residents are from black or minority ethnic groups and the different needs and values of our communities can also be hard to meet and reconcile.
43.We asked Andrew Hinchley how the London Borough of Camden tries to balance the competing needs of different groups of park users. He told us that when establishing agreements for exclusive use of sports facilities, periods of general access were included. He said that such periods, for example between 4pm and 6pm to coincide with the end of the school day, could maximise income generation without a disproportionate impact on the accessibility of the space to the community. Mr Hinchley told us that when reconciling the different demands on parks and green spaces, and the potential effect of creating barriers to free access, particular attention needed to be given to the impact on more deprived communities:
The things that prevent people from going to use a space are particularly damaging—as much so as conflicts within space—and can often affect the more deprived communities much worse. They are particularly susceptible to changes in maintenance regimes, so if the quality of the space declines, people feel less secure, women and children are less likely to use it, and ethnic minorities are less likely to go and use that space.
44.Cllr Lisa Trickett of Birmingham City Council suggested that parks could serve to connect communities which might otherwise be separate or in tension with one another. She described place shaping as “an act of reconciliation” between competing priorities, and told us resolving tensions between the needs of different user groups required mutual respect:
If the cyclist cannot respect the dog walker, then we have a problem in our society. We should not be shy about bringing those things out. [ … ] the beauty of the parks and the green space is their openness and connectivity. Once they start being given over to just one group or usage, you lose the underlying benefit. You manage it through, again, sharing; it is about mutual respect and sharing.
45.We recognise that a community asset which is freely available to all will, quite naturally, give rise to some tensions when the requirements and wishes of different sections of the community, or different groups of park users, come into conflict. We accept that striking the right balance between open access to parks, and revenue-raising activities such as events or granting exclusive use to particular groups is challenging. However, it is necessary. We believe that if parks are to truly serve the communities within which they are located, local authorities must take into account the needs of all of their residents. In the planning and management of parks, local authorities must engage effectively in dialogue with their communities to assess and understand their needs, and to explain the decisions which they take. We recognise that it may be appropriate at times for local authorities to grant exclusive access to a park or a part of a park, whether on a temporary or a permanent basis, to particular user groups or organisations. It may also be appropriate for local authorities to charge for some uses of a park, especially when parks are used by commercial ventures as part of their business models. However, such exclusive use or charging must not disproportionately affect or hinder access to the park for other uses. To ensure transparency for local communities, and to enable them to hold their local authorities to account for the decisions which are made, local authorities should consult on, and publish, policies which set out the criteria upon which:
a)any application for exclusive use of a park or part of a park will be determined;
b)any decisions about whether park users will be charged for the use of the park, park facilities, or clean-up costs will be based.
46.A high profile example of competing demands on parks is parkrun. parkrun is a weekly mass participation 5km run which takes place in parks across the world. Many of those who responded to our call for evidence and our survey were very positive about the benefits of parkrun for runners, volunteers and communities. In our survey, we asked people to use a free text box to describe what they used their park for: parkrun was by far the most common response (see Figure 5).
Source: Communities and Local Government Committee, What do people think about their local parks? Results of a survey by the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee (November 2016)
47.However, others highlighted concerns about the impact of parkrun on them and their parks. For example:
Many people in urban areas use parks for sport activities and this should be encouraged but the increase in organised groups of runners for example (parkruns) should be managed somehow, not stopped. It is quite intimidating to be walking on a path when hordes of people are running towards you.
parkrun is a case in point. A wonderful national campaign which has had a lot of press coverage in recent months. The problem with such an event is that whilst staging it is organised by the groups themselves, experience has shown there is almost always an extra cost for the authority afterwards. 200+ runners will leave a mess even if it’s just mud on the footpaths, which needs to be cleaned up to make the paths safe. These events always take place at weekends which require extra staff coming in.
48.Such tensions became visible in April 2016 when Stoke Gifford Parish Council decided to charge for the use of the park for parkrun. Announcing its decision, the Council said that the runners monopolised the park, residents had complained about litter and parking, and it was unfair that residents should pay when parkrun was an organisation with paid directors, fundraisers and sponsors. Commenting on parkrun, ukactive told us:
the park has to be a space that is available to all people in the community to use and benefit from. As ukactive, we can understand both sides of that perspective. parkruns are a great, fantastic model, which appeal to a very broad audience, with [ … ] over 18,000 people using them on weekly basis. What we would like to see is support for local authorities to ensure that for other people, dogwalkers and people who do not want to take part but are with their families just going for a walk or a picnic, the space is there and available for them to use and left in a really good state.
49.We asked local authorities about parkrun. Ian Walmsley of Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council told us he had met his local parkrun organisers the previous week. He described the need to find practical solutions and reconcile the needs of different user groups, and noted that his authority was intending to formalise the way in which parkrun used its parks by developing an agreement:
The agreement is about, on an annual basis, coming to talk to us to agree routes and agree B routes. We are putting them in direct contact with the people who tend not to like them, the Friends. [ … ] It is about managing those agreements and a method by which they feed back into the park. They are all there for free, to run, so we try to introduce that if they have a damaged path, we will drop some stone off, and they will go and put the stone up for themselves. It is a little bit of payback, so that other people who do pay can see that park runners who go for free are contributing in some other way, but not necessarily through a set fee.
We heard from parkrun itself that while it was not in a position to offer financial support to parks, it was “keen to investigate other forms of local support that we could provide (eg litter-picking, simple maintenance etc.)”.
50.In some circumstances, it may be appropriate for local authorities to seek non-financial contributions from some park users to the upkeep and maintenance of parks and green spaces. For example, community activities which do not charge members for participation or raise revenue, such as parkrun, might nonetheless be encouraged to contribute volunteer time for park maintenance or fund-raising activities. As part of developing their exclusive use and charging policies for parks and green spaces, local authorities should work collaboratively with relevant groups of park users to identify the range of ways in which they can contribute to their parks.
51.The reductions in local authority budgets in recent years have left local authorities facing difficult choices. The State of UK Public Parks 2016 report found that 92 per cent of local authority parks departments have experienced budget reductions in the past three years, and that 95 per cent of parks managers expect to be faced with further reductions in the next three years. The scale of budget reductions has varied between different local authorities. For example, Newcastle City Council told us that its parks management budget had been reduced by 97 per cent over the past five years, whereas Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council’s budget for green space management and maintenance has reduced by 30 per cent over the past six years. Different local authorities have responded differently to the reductions in their budgets, for example by reducing costs, or increasing the income generated by their parks. Many of those who responded to our call for evidence suggested that a statutory duty to provide parks would increase the priority afforded to them during local authority budget allocation. We explore this question in more detail in Chapter 4.
52.Friends, volunteers, and other community groups have played a key role in mitigating the impact of budget reductions on local parks. Some local authorities are working innovatively with such groups, or with local businesses, to access volunteer time, expertise, or fundraising. However, as the Parks Alliance told us: “a side effect of this has been to disguise the depth of the crisis facing parks and open spaces”. We explore the role of communities in meeting the challenges facing the parks sector in more detail in Chapter 4.
53.Despite the hard work of local authorities and communities, many of those who contributed to our inquiry highlighted short and longer term effects resulting from the difficult financial circumstances. These include:
54.Like many of those who responded to our inquiry, we are concerned that the impact of budget reductions could herald a return to the period of neglect which our parks experienced in the 1980s and 90s. Since then, some £850 million has been invested in parks and green spaces by the Heritage Lottery Fund alone—a period of decline would put this investment at risk. We agree with Derbyshire County Council’s assessment that:
Many of these changes can appear small scale at first but have an insidious effect with longer term results [ … ] as sites become less welcoming, due to vandalism or their unkempt appearance, this confidence is knocked and users can be put off coming, then as the site has fewer visitors, this can itself dissuade further visitors creating a vicious circle of decline.
The short-term effects of budget reductions, such as reduced grass-cutting, increased litter, and temporary closure of some facilities will undoubtedly affect the communities who use and value their parks. However, some of the effects of the budget reductions described above will not be immediate. Sue Ireland, Vice Chair of the Parks Alliance, gave the example of weed reseeding, which she said means that
more plants for the future are the wrong sorts of plants. It is things like that; it is a gradual thing, because if you are managing landscapes, they are there for the long term, so you can put those things right. What we are doing at the moment is becoming much more reactive in the way in which we manage.
55.We are also, therefore, concerned about the medium and longer term effect of, for example, staff reductions which limit the capacity of local authorities to build relationships, and provide support to community groups to help them to organise and contribute to the upkeep and enhancement of their local parks. We heard concerns about whether local authorities currently have the strategic capacity and skills to take advantage of new opportunities. Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council told us that the reduction in parks management roles within its parks service meant that it had to a focus on reactive work at the expense of strategic planning, ability to apply for grant funding, and third sector relationship building. In addition, it emphasised the impact of staffing reductions and reduced capacity on staff morale:
The inability to carry out work to the standards needed at all times and in all parks also causes frustration for Council Officers who want to do a good job but see the improvements made over the years being lost with little chance of reversing the trend.
56.Many of our witnesses told us about the importance of community and volunteer groups in mitigating the impact of budget reductions, and enhancing parks and green spaces. However, park managers are expecting anticipated budget reductions to lead to decreases in park quality, and further reductions in skills, morale, support for park friends and user groups, and volunteer recruitment and training. For example, Birmingham City Council told us that:
Without a staff resource to offer supervision and guidance this activity [volunteering by individuals, community groups, friends groups and corporate groups] and the resulting help in kind (approximately 60,000 hours per annum worth approximately £550,000) would not take place.
57.The Parks Alliance told us that where there were strong friends groups operating, parks were more likely to weather budget reductions, but that if momentum was to be maintained, there needed to be sufficient local authority funding and support to establish a strong partnership between the local authority and the community group. By working with friends or volunteer groups, local authorities may be able to access funding sources which were not available to them directly as local authorities. However, we also heard that the limited availability of capital and revenue funding could result in individual parks, or friends groups, coming into competition with one another. In addition to hindering the ability of such groups to work together, the result of such competition is that parks with less well-resourced groups, or groups with less expertise or experience, can lose out. Fields in Trust noted that lobbying and campaigns could result in areas with active campaigns securing protections for their parks, while “other neighbourhoods, equally in need, are less well-served”. The Department of Landscape at Sheffield University argued this can deepen inequalities, as “invariably the better-resourced group with stronger capacity (often on the richer side of town/ the city) will fare better”.
58.This is illustrated by the evidence that we heard from Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council, which told us that it had mitigated the impact of staff reductions and skill losses in part through new ways of working with volunteers which helped them to work more independently. While this is, in general, positive, the Council told us that:
the sections of our community most affected by the loss of direct support by council staff are often those least able to help themselves. This includes school groups who require on site direction, provision of tools, equipment and materials and volunteers from more deprived backgrounds who may not have the resources to work independently. It is possible that it is these same members of the community that stand to gain the most from the benefits that voluntary work can bring.
59.Similarly, the London Borough of Camden said that expecting volunteers to come forward proactively could mean that “it can be some of the perhaps better-off areas, which have more confidence and skills, that step up to the plate. Deprived communities without those skills do not necessarily have the capacity”. Bringing friends groups or other community groups into competition in this way, whether for funding, or for support from the local authority, therefore risks deepening the inequalities between our communities by contributing to the emergence of a multi-tier parks system. The Friends of Grangewood Park described their parks as “second class citizens”, located within an area which “has relatively high levels of poverty, with increasing numbers of houses in multiple occupation with children living in accommodation with little or no outdoor space”. The Better Archway Forum suggested that one means to overcome “the potential uneven quality of local representation might be to require such representatives to work with a number of parks in a wider area”.
60.We asked Dave Morris, the Chair of the National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces, how local authorities should try to work with friends and community groups. He told us that the way forward was for friends groups to come together to form forums, which could then provide the basis for interaction with the local authority. For example, the Harrow Recreation Ground Steering Group told us that, as a Green Flag park, while it is still underfunded, “We know we get a disproportionate share of the resources [ … ] But other parks are worse off and as a Member Group of Harrow Parks Forum we argue that more resources are needed for all Harrow’s parks. [ … ] Harrow Parks Forum is an umbrella forum through which different park user groups can share knowledge, support new groups and enjoy events at each other’s parks”.
61.When he came before us, the Minister emphasised that the allocation and prioritisation of their budgets is a matter for local authorities, but said that the longer-term settlements taken up by 97 per cent of local authorities and the retention of 100 per cent of business rates by the end of this Parliament should, in his opinion, “give councils a stable position to plan for into the future”. The Parks Alliance acknowledged the retention of business rates, but told us it wanted to see a commitment from local authorities that some of the proceeds from business rates would be spent on parks so that lottery funding could “primarily be about enhancing the offer of many public parks and open spaces; rather than maintaining existing green infrastructure”.
62.The level of response which we have received to our inquiry, and the evidence which so many people have provided, is a clear indication to us of the strength and depth of concern which people and communities across the country have about the effect of budget reductions on their treasured parks and green spaces. We share these concerns. We too are worried about the potential deterioration or even loss of a service which is of great value, both as an amenity, and for the contribution which parks make to wider policy objectives including community cohesion, improvement of air quality, and biodiversity. The actions taken thus far by local authorities and volunteers have mitigated the effect of budget reductions in the short term, but this support may not be sustainable in the longer term. The contributions made by friends groups, and other volunteer and community groups, are very important: but they must not be taken for granted. While we recognise the difficult choices with which local authorities are faced, we believe that when planning their parks services, or taking decisions about funding allocations, they must give sufficient priority to supporting, building relationships with and coordinating volunteers.
63.We understand how strongly local friends and community groups feel about their own local parks. However, it is a matter of concern that friends groups may be forced into competition with each other for scarce resources and that some parks are losing out to others. We believe that local authorities should consider their parks to be part of one portfolio, rather than as disparate individual sites. In this way, we believe that they can manage their parks more efficiently and effectively. We welcome the growth of parks forums, in which friends and community groups can come together to share resources, ideas and learning. We believe that such forums will improve the way in which local authorities can work with their communities in coordinated and efficient ways. Local authorities should encourage and support the development of friends group forums, and work with them in a coordinated way to ensure that needs are properly assessed, and resources are prioritised and targeted appropriately. Where local circumstances require it, this may include coordination and cooperation across local authority boundaries.
64.Budget reductions have already had a range of effects on parks, and on the communities which use them. At times, the potential consequences of such effects can, unfortunately, be dangerous. Table 1 sets out a few of the potential health and safety risks witnesses highlighted.
“Over time, we expect serious maintenance issues to become apparent in parks, such as keeping tarmac paths in good condition, replacing play equipment, and tree maintenance. Gradually, the decline in the condition of parks will make parks more difficult, less pleasant and less safe to use, impacting on the health and wellbeing of communities that rely on them. This decline will be very challenging and expensive to reverse”.
Buildings and structures
“In the last 10 years there have been two failed heritage lottery bids to improve some of the important heritage areas of the park. This includes a Shippon Complex and Stable buildings, which have links to the former ownership of the park by John Rylands one of the founders of the weaving industry during the industrial revolution. These buildings are now becoming unsafe due to lack of repair/capital investment to replace the leaking roof”.
“Tree maintenance has also suffered, leading to potentially dangerous situations where dead trees and trees with dead limbs sway in high winds with no intervention. The council state that they rely on the public to report dangerous trees, which on one occasion we did, but it took over a month for the council to attend to it”.
Lakes and ponds
“The water in the lake comes from road run-off from the local catchment area, which is the largest in London, and so brings rubbish, cigarette ends, rubber bands, oil, cacogenics and anything else put down the drains in the local roads. Household misconnections to the rain water drains rather than the sewers also cause major problems. We have had two very serious outbreaks of botulism during the last 5 years during which approximately 120 wildfowl died. The advice is that the lake badly needs desilting but as the silt is contaminated it will need to be sent to a special waste disposal site that deals with contaminated waste and estimates of the cost range from £600,000 to £2 million. The Council does not have this sort of money to spend as the Tarn is one of 22 parks in Greenwich and their budget also has to cover the maintenance of cemeteries, and any trees along the roads”.
Lack of repairs and maintenance
“Safety has become an issue. Damaged play equipment was not repaired, despite many requests to the local authority, and was eventually just taken away. Two dogs have been injured–one from an ill-fitting screw on a bench, and one from a piece of metal cut by the grass-cutter because litter-picking is no longer carried out before mowing. Paths become slippery, not only from cut grass in the summer, but fallen leaves that aren’t swept up in the winter”.
65.Local authorities are responsible for carrying out risk assessments on their parks to ensure that they are as safe as possible for those who use them. Birmingham City Council stated that:
This is a critical area of work which we must ensure continues to reduce the risk to the City Council of claims for litigation and damage. Any substantial employee headcount reductions will affect the ability of the service to undertake these risk assessments. A further headcount reduction will also impact upon the management of the large number of volunteer staff that provide added value to the Parks Service. The management of our Parks sites often include additional incidents such as the management of Ash Dieback, E.coli, water safety, infectious diseases etc. These need careful management to prevent harm to parks visitors and the environment.
In their evidence to us, local authorities emphasised the priority they give to health and safety in their parks. Andrew Hinchley from the London Borough of Camden summarised the position:
I do not necessarily think there is an increased risk. Health and safety inspections, and addressing high risk items, will always be top of the agenda. Perhaps the difference now is our ability, once we have shut a space down and made it safe, to do something about that quickly—how fast it could perhaps be replaced, or where we find capital investment to do something about that.
66.The Minister told us that his impression was that local authorities were more aware of their safety responsibilities than they had been in the past, but that he was willing to ask his officials to look at the evidence base to identify any trends in safety incidents in parks. We acknowledge the difficult choices with which local authorities are faced. However, it is essential that our parks are places which are safe for our communities to enjoy. When planning parks maintenance, and allocating funding, local authorities must prioritise safety, especially in relation to children’s play equipment. To ensure that health and safety in parks is given appropriate priority, the Minister should collect data on the number and distribution of accidents in parks across England centrally. He should monitor this data, identify any trends or patterns, and work with relevant local authorities to address problems.
67.Parks across the country have benefited from capital investment from bodies such as the Heritage Lottery Fund. There was consensus that this investment has been beneficial in restoring and enhancing many of the UK’s parks. However, we also heard that the reliance of parks on capital funding from grants of this nature has had unintended consequences. The Town and Country Planning Association argued that the resulting focus on the heritage and history of parks had meant less attention had been given to parks’ role in the future of towns and cities, for example as part of climate change mitigation or spaces to facilitate active travel. Mrs Michelle Furtado, a sustainability consultant, suggested that it might well be suburban parks which lack the required heritage or landscape features to attract grant funding or generate income through concessions which were most in need of capital investments or ongoing revenue maintenance as:
These are used heavily but don’t meet the requirements for funding or have the interest afforded by the local community for an active ‘friends’ group. Here maintenance cuts are felt more quickly, as infrastructure and equipment loss is not as visible or key to a town’s image. Yet these are the vital spaces where significant numbers of people would benefit from the addition of green gyms or new play spaces, improving local health outcomes and facilities.
68.Britain Thinks found that flagship parks were less likely to be a priority for people (28 per cent) than neighbourhood children’s playgrounds (56 per cent). However, some witnesses argued that decreases in revenue budgets could lead to the emergence of a two-tier parks system in which larger, flagship parks are prioritised for investment and smaller, neighbourhood parks are overlooked, with a corresponding detrimental impact on their communities. The Heritage Lottery Fund acknowledged that this could be an unintended consequence of its focus on principal parks, as local authorities might try to protect past investment within a context of reducing resources. Haringey Friends of Parks Forum told us that this had happened to its local parks, as the allocation of match funding to parks in receipt of Heritage Lottery Fund grants over an agreed period meant that parks which have not received Lottery funding are disproportionately affected when overall budgets are reduced.
69.During our inquiry, we heard that while overall parks budgets are reducing, local authorities may find it particularly challenging to access ongoing revenue and maintenance funding. Eddie Curry, Chair of the Core Cities Parks and Greenspaces Group, told us that:
From a capital funding perspective, there seems to have been very little change in terms of our ability to access capital funds to drive forward improvements in parks. The real challenge for us is having the capacity and the skills in house to deliver those projects.
Arup told us that increasingly, when commissioning its services, local authorities were “responding to on-going revenue cuts as well as the historically weak relationship between capital investment and revenue funding. Finding new, sustainable ways to manage parks in the face of ever more severe funding reductions is often a focus of such commissions”. Peter Neal, an independent landscape consultant and the author of the State of the UK Public Parks reports, argued that this could result in “costly and demoralising cycles of investment followed by decline”. Newcastle City Council summarised the issue:
A number of successful Heritage Lottery bids have seen considerable capital investment in 6 of the principal parks. Heritage Lottery expect that these parks are maintained to a high standard and regularly monitor the levels of maintenance. It is a challenge to maintain the lottery funded parks to the levels expected and a failure to do so can potentially result in claw back of funds. Although capital injections in parks are welcomed the real issue for the future is ongoing maintenance. There are very few funding sources available for revenue projects. A change in emphasis from funding bodies to revenue would be welcomed.
70.The Bristol Parks Forum similarly highlighted concerns about a mismatch between capital investment and ongoing revenue funding, telling us that “Bristol City Council is increasingly reluctant to sign up for Lottery funded projects because it cannot be sure that it will be able to meet its maintenance commitments in the future”. Describing a lack of ongoing maintenance of their park’s infrastructure, the Friends of Kingswood Park suggested that:
New parks must be designed for low maintenance. This means careful choice of boundary structures, features and pathways so that they are sustainable and maintain their appearance for years to come. There is nothing so sad as a relatively new green space losing its initial lustre and becoming unused.
We also heard suggestions that greater flexibility in the use which can be made of planning gains, for example allowing Section 106 or the Community Infrastructure Levy to be put towards revenue spending might be more beneficial to local parks and green spaces than new capital enhancements.
71.Sufficient priority must be given to the sustainability of ongoing maintenance and the revenue funding needed. When commissioning new park facilities or elements local authorities should ensure that the level of ongoing maintenance required is feasible, and that plans for capital investment are accompanied by sustainable plans for ongoing revenue requirements. We believe that local authorities should be allowed to use Section 106 and Community Infrastructure Levy funds to cover parks’ revenue requirements.
72.Access to high quality green space has been linked to better health outcomes. People are more likely to be physically active if they live close to accessible green space. However, access to green space across England currently varies. The Department for Communities and Local Government acknowledged that the most affluent 20 per cent of wards in England have five times the amount of green space as the most deprived 10 per cent. In its research on public perceptions of parks, Britain Thinks found that middle class adults were more likely to think that their local parks were in a good condition than working class adults, and that council tenants were more likely to think that their parks were in poor condition than residents of any other form of tenure. One respondent to our call for evidence told us:
My park is in an area which could be considered as deprived. There is high unemployment in the area and little potential for economic growth. Finding private funding for a park in such an area is difficult, one off payments may be gained from local businesses and funds could be raised in the short term by community groups but in a situation of economic hardship it is difficult to see how long term funding could be sought and sustained. This would result in my local park falling back into disrepair and therefore the use by the community would be lost, with negative effects on both physical and mental wellbeing.
73.Many people of Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds live in the most deprived wards in the UK, which have, on average, a fifth of the green space available in the most affluent wards. A 2010 study showed that in areas where Black and Minority Ethnic groups comprise 40 per cent or more of the population, the available green space is of a poorer quality. A similar study found that “the quality of, access to, and use of urban green space was a significant predictor of general health for people of African Caribbean, Bangladeshi, Pakistani origin and other BME groups, who were also those with the poorest health”. That study concluded that the provision and maintenance of good quality urban green space could contribute to the reduction of health inequalities.
74.The Centre for Diet and Activity Research at Cambridge University found proximity to green space was not sufficient—that green space also needs to be accessible. In a study in Bristol it found that:
those living in more deprived areas tended to live closer to green spaces than those in more affluent areas. However, those in more deprived areas were less likely to use green spaces, reported poorer perceived accessibility to these spaces, and reported lower physical activity levels. Therefore encouraging the use of public parks by those living in more deprived neighbourhoods may need to include improving perceptions of accessibility of local green spaces.
The Better Archway Forum suggested that “those in most need of greenspace are often those least willing or able to travel to find it. They will barely go the distance of two bus stops to do so, which means it is important to provide regularly spaced elements of greenspace”. The Sport and Recreation Alliance highlighted the need for local authorities and health professionals to signpost people to the parks and green spaces in their areas, how to get there, and what activities or facilities are available.
75.The Heritage Lottery Fund told us that analysis of 135 of its investment projects had shown that “50 per cent of the funding for those projects was going to the 20 per cent most deprived communities”. Similarly, programmes like the Department for Communities and Local Government’s Pocket Parks initiative have sought to target capital investment in deprived areas, and to improve provision. The Minister told us that the Pocket Park programme was specifically aimed at improving the provision of green spaces for deprived communities and added:
We have now provided the public health grant to local authorities. It is possible for that public health funding to be used to target support at the most deprived and vulnerable communities, where often you have the greatest health inequalities. I would hope that the green space and parks available in communities can be part of that too.
76.In September 2015, the UK was one of 193 countries which adopted the Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit in New York. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include SDG 11.7, which requires that states will:
By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities.
77.The Minister noted that there is no defined metric or measure for assessing whether SDG 11.7 has been achieved. Even so, we have heard evidence which concerns us about the extent to which the UK is on track to achieve SDG 11.7 by 2030. For example, the Friends of Bromley Town Parks and Gardens told us that one of the impacts of budget cuts was poorer maintenance which would “gradually degrade our parks and so make them less attractive to park users, seem more threatening and less biodiverse”. Newcastle University told us that one of the most common reasons people give for not using parks and green spaces is fear of antisocial behaviour. Those most likely to be discouraged by this fear are “the most vulnerable members of society who are discouraged from using parks and open space by poor maintenance and whose confidence is then difficult to regain”. Similarly, one local authority green space officer told us that when park facilities were removed or in poor condition as a result of budget reductions “the young and disabled suffer the worst implications of poor access to facilities, being less able to independently travel to alternative facilities further away”.
78.Parks for London noted that one impact of the reductions in park budgets was reduced enforcement of bylaws. It stated that this could make parks less safe, and therefore have a particular impact on vulnerable groups, including women, children, older people, and people from ethnic minority backgrounds. One resident told us that neglect had led to her park becoming used for drug-related activity and rough sleeping. The formation of a friends group had led to the council providing funding for policing, but this had since been withdrawn because of budget cuts. The result was that gang and drug-related activity was increasing, and local residents were being put off using the park at some times of the day. This was not, unfortunately, an isolated case. We also heard from the Lambeth Parks and Open Spaces Forum that budget reductions were leading to changes to arrangements for locking parks, which could lead to greater risk of damage or antisocial behaviour, with a corresponding impact on amenity, access and park safety. Similarly, the Friends of Saltwell Park told us that before holding nature sessions for young children in the park, the programme organiser has to check the park and remove evidence of drug and alcohol-related activity. The London Borough of Camden noted that increases in antisocial behaviour and deposits (e.g. abandoned sleeping materials, discarded drug paraphernalia) were coinciding with potential reductions in its community safety service.
79.Groundwork told us that children and young people are particularly affected by the unequal distribution of quality green space:
The importance of green spaces to young people’s social and physical development is well understood. For example, studies show that outdoor play patterns established in childhood are directly linked with adult health. However, according to the National Children’s Bureau’s 2013 report ‘Greater Expectations’, children living in deprived areas are nine times less likely than those living in affluent areas to have access to green space and places to play.
Young people from lower income families are less likely to access parks and green spaces than those from higher income families. StreetGames told us that 20 per cent of young people from lower income families have no access to local green space to play outdoor sport, compared with 12 per cent from higher income families. Of those young people with access to parks and green spaces, 32 per cent of 16–24 year olds from lower income families say that they never visit it, compared with 14 per cent of young people from higher income families. Speaking about the barriers to access to green spaces for young people, Cllr Trickett of Birmingham City Council told us:
There was a film done recently about green space and play areas, and there was a lad interviewed from Tottenham. This lad was referring to the signs saying, “No ball games here”. How can we do that? There are tower blocks; the only green space available to those children is outside those tower blocks, and the first thing we do is slap a sign on it with, “No ball games here”. Those young people are growing up with an identity that says, “You are not welcome here”. It is not just what we do on the green space; it is how we make children and young people feel part of their communities. Again, when we look at our inner-city areas and high-density inner-city estates, we have to look at that totality of green space and make sure that it is accessible and inclusive to all.
80.Ceri Love, a 38 Degrees member, highlighted the benefits of access to parks and green spaces for mental and physical health, both for herself and for the refugee women she works with:
For me particularly, because I use a wheelchair, there are safe, smooth paths for my wheelchair, so I can get close to nature and I can go by myself, which is one of the few times that I can go solo with my electric wheelchair. When I lived in the countryside, I could not get close to nature, because the paths that you take off on are too rugged.
Some of those who responded to our call for evidence highlighted the barriers which can prevent people with disabilities from accessing parks and green spaces and the benefits which they can provide. For example, the Tyne and Wear Joint Local Access Forum told us that parks may be the primary way in which many people with disabilities can experience rural or semi-rural settings. However, to ensure that they are able to do so, basic requirements need to be met, for example accessible parking, accessible toilets, benches at reasonable intervals, obstruction-free footpaths, and accessible information about facilities and routes to enable people to plan their visits in advance. Unfortunately such requirements are not always met.
81.We recognise the importance of parks and green spaces to national strategic issues such as obesity, flooding and climate change. We are therefore concerned about the unequal distribution of parks and green spaces in England, and the consequent impact on the ability of all of our communities to benefit from the many advantages of access to quality green space. We are concerned that the UK may not meet UN Sustainable Development Goal 11.7 in respect of safe and inclusive access to parks and green spaces by 2030. The Minister and the cross-departmental group should identify what action can be taken to improve the provision of parks and green spaces, for example by accessing funds available under public health strategies such as the Obesity Strategy. The Minister should also monitor the provision and distribution of green space across England, and provide Parliament with annual updates, by way of written statements, on whether equality of access is improving. If access to high quality parks and green spaces does not improve for deprived communities, the Minister should identify local authorities where provision is inadequate, and work with them to improve access.
82.Public parks are included within the definition of ‘open space’ in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). The NPPF provides that existing open spaces should not be built on, unless assessment clearly shows them to be surplus to requirements or the loss resulting from the proposed development would be replaced by equivalent or better provision elsewhere. The NPPF also requires local authorities to consider appropriate climate change mitigation and adaptation measures when making their Local Plans or other planning decisions. Parks which are identified as ‘significant’—as defined by the NPPF—may be included on the register of parks and gardens of special interest. Such parks and gardens are then subject to additional consultation requirements before any proposed development can take place. Local Green Space Designation status and Neighbourhood Planning can also assist communities to protect their parks and green spaces. The Department for Communities and Local Government stated that Neighbourhood Planning means:
community groups have far greater influence in deciding on the location of new shops, offices, homes or recreational facilities including green spaces and what to protect [ … ]. There are 197 neighbourhood plans made and more than 50 of these include the protection or creation of green space in their area.
83.The Minister told us that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy was working with the Ordnance Survey to develop a tool to map green spaces across the country. He said that:
If we know where all our green spaces are, it helps in terms of the public identifying what is and what is not in their area. We then have to make information easily available to the public in terms of what they can do to protect that green space that is not already protected.
84.However, the Friends of Langmeads told us that they were concerned about the extent of the protections provided by Neighbourhood Plans:
while Neighbourhood Plans (NPs) have helped highlight the value of specific local green spaces, the implementation of NPs has proved patchy in some respects. In our area that has not yet affected parks or open spaces. However, the fact that some policies of our NP, for example on housing design and materials, have not been respected—even if only in what might seem small details—does not inspire confidence.
85.Many of those who contributed to our inquiry raised the potential conflict between green spaces and housing development:
The country is facing a housing shortage, particularly for affordable housing. Local Authorities, Local Enterprise Partnerships and housing providers are considering new developments. The Government is committed to building a million homes over five years. The pressure for new housing, particularly in the south of England, is therefore intense. Whilst the focus tends to inevitably come down to how many houses can be built, there is a need to consider the well-being of the communities being created, as well as the impact on existing residents.
Birmingham City Council told us that pressure for housing development was “nibbling away” at existing green space, and increasing demand for new public open spaces. Pressure on green spaces from housing development is especially acute on smaller green spaces, which are less likely to receive protections under planning policy. Housing development can be a source of additional funding for parks and green spaces, through S106 payments in lieu of open space provision, or through the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL). We heard from the London Borough of Camden that much of its capital funding for parks is raised in this way, with a portion of S106 monies reserved for maintenance and renewal of project sites to reduce pressure on the revenue budget. However, the introduction of CIL, which is not ringfenced, means that parks are increasingly having to compete with other service areas for the funding.
86.Birmingham City Council acknowledged that the NPPF provides some opportunities to secure open space provision from the private sector, but stated that some developers were resistant to putting long term management and funding arrangements in place, wanting instead to “discharge their liabilities once their development is complete and the properties sold”. Sefton Council noted that budget reductions created difficulties for developers, who would usually expect to hand responsibility for green spaces within new developments over to the council. Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council suggested that it would be helpful if planning guidance could be interpreted more broadly, to allow planning gains to be used to enhance existing green space provision and facilities, where this would offer greater sustainability, rather than providing new play areas as part of new housing developments. Conversely, the Chief Cultural and Leisure Officers Association suggested that the pressure to develop urban green spaces might provide “an opportunity to replace poor quality or poorly sited existing green spaces with superior alternatives within new areas of urban expansion”.
87.Many witnesses highlighted increasing housing densities in new developments in towns and cities, or as a result of office to residential conversion through Permitted Development Rights, and argued that the lack of access to private gardens made access to parks and public green spaces increasingly important:
the properties being built are mainly flats, with little or no provision for gardens for children to play in. These residents need parks as they are the only places they can go for their children to play, often the only places with grass in an otherwise concrete jungle.
Increasingly people are being crammed into small flats and many local residents have no other access to green open spaces. It is well known that the physical and mental health of everyone is improved by being outdoors in a green environment, taking appropriate exercise, having fun and mixing with other park users.
[Parks] become an even more vital lifeline when developers incorporate nearby green spaces into their designs, using them to mitigate against the negative impacts of the high-density housing they are building.
88.We heard from some witnesses that provision of green space is not always central to planning and development. Some suggested that it is seen as “a cosmetic afterthought”, whereas the growth of our towns and cities, and the corresponding increase in demand for parks and green spaces, could provide an opportunity to strengthen the links between development and green space provision. Some, including Birmingham City Council, have suggested that in the design of towns and cities, a whole-place approach should be taken. Such an approach would consider parks as:
part of a holistic and inter-connected green estate [ … ] given equal weight, thought, design and resources, as all other parts of the wider platforms of city infrastructure, and totally integrated.
89.We agree that green space should be at the heart of planning as it is fundamentally important to creating and shaping communities where people want to live, and where they are able to thrive. When preparing or updating their Local Plans, local authorities should take a whole-place approach which recognises the importance of parks and green spaces both to existing and to new communities, in accordance with paragraphs 73 and 76 of the National Planning Policy Framework. This will require effective fulfilment of their duty to cooperate with other local authorities, whether on a bilateral basis or within the structures of devolution deals.
90.The London Borough of Camden noted that development opportunities do not always align with the areas in greatest need of open spaces. To mitigate this, the Council is pursuing alternative ways to improve access to green spaces, including securing access to previously locked private squares, and looking for ‘greening’ opportunities through the planning system, including reimagining highways and applying green roof requirements. The Leicestershire Local Access Forum outlined the benefits of such greening approaches:
Green corridors are very desirable on many counts not least for allowing wildlife to migrate between parks, small green spaces and gardens and the open countryside. Isolated pockets of wildlife reduce the gene pool and lead to local extinctions. They can in effect be linear parks and can double up as greenways providing off road routes to work, school, shops etc. and to also allow people to gain access to the wider countryside.
91.We were told that parks were “significant larger nodes in the network of green infrastructure connecting people and wildlife to other places”. However, the Land Trust argued that, at present, there is insufficient political will to champion parks, and suggested that “Parks and other green spaces and green infrastructure need to be considered at the same level as grey infrastructure, taken seriously and have the political support”. For example, Sue Ireland, from the Parks Alliance, noted that the emphasis on meeting housing need created pressures on planners which made it challenging to achieve the necessary focus on green infrastructure:
There is a willingness, but the priority is so much more focused on housing that what green infrastructure is about is not really understood. It is partly because it is not a very sexy title, “green infrastructure”—that is why we talk about parks much more. When we talk about parks we mean more than parks, but it is the importance of getting them to understand that if they plan road traffic, all those sorts of things, green infrastructure should be in there right at the beginning. If it is, it can do so much more for the whole development.
92.James Harris from the Royal Town Planning Institute told us that one of the benefits of considering parks in the context of a wider approach to green infrastructure was the ability to access economies of scale which:
allow you to pull in other revenue streams from, say, the healthcare sector or water and sewage companies, which might benefit from reduced drainage into their sewer network because you have a network of parks. You can start to build that evidence that all these green infrastructure assets bring on a much wider scale. You need to have the good evidence behind you, and a good plan for how you will invest in them and make them better and better. You can then start having those discussions with health and wellbeing boards, water and sewage companies, and transit authorities that are looking to take cars off the road, and to promote active travel and people walking and cycling. You can start to bring in those kinds of strategic partners, and then you get towards the point where you can start to request contributions and funding towards the upkeep.
The Town and Country Planning Association agreed that understanding parks as a part of wider green infrastructure networks might help local authorities to access alternative funding sources, as well as help to avoid the marginalisation of parks by encouraging them to be understood as “a vital element in the future success of our towns and cities”.
93.Parks are not synonymous with green infrastructure—parks deliver important leisure, health, wellbeing and amenity benefits which other types of green infrastructure may not, and large green spaces like parks make particular contributions to absorbing water run-off to mitigate flood risk and combating the Urban Heat Island Effect—but we believe that thinking about parks as one element of wider green infrastructure networks may be beneficial both to parks, and to the profile of other types of green infrastructure. For example, understanding parks as part of wider networks of green infrastructure helps to highlight the value of green corridors and networks for biodiversity, wildlife, and active travel networks.
94.Considering parks as a part of wider green infrastructure networks is likely to be a positive approach, but it will not be a panacea to resolve all of the challenges facing the parks sector. Traditional grey infrastructure, such as roads, is in our view often prioritised over green infrastructure, and many of our witnesses argued that planning policy needs to give greater recognition to green infrastructure. For example, Urban Pollinators Ltd stated that: “National investment decisions prioritise highly visible structures such as roads and railways, supporting interventions in landscapes while neglecting the landscapes themselves”. Similarly, Merrick Denton-Thompson, President of the Landscape Institute, told us that planning policy currently gives insufficient attention to green infrastructure master planning: “there is a need to be much more proactive, and to see green infrastructure as infrastructure, in the same way that hospitals and roads are. These are now very, very important public facilities”. In February 2016, the House of Lords Committee on the Built Environment concluded that:
The Government must do more to protect and promote Green Infrastructure in national policy and guidance, including setting out its benefits for sustainability. [ … ] Within and beyond Government, there must be wider recognition of the fact that Green Infrastructure is an asset, and offers wider economic, health and social benefits.
We agree with the Committee that the benefits of green infrastructure need to be more widely recognised, and that planning policy should support and encourage green infrastructure more effectively.
95.In its response to the Lords’ report, the Department for Communities and Local Government said that “The Government recognises the important role of green infrastructure in delivering sustainable development”. We welcome this acknowledgement. We also note that the Department stated that it had expanded the planning practice guidance for the preparation by local authorities of green infrastructure frameworks to inform their Local or Neighbourhood Plan-making. However, in a joint letter to us, the Town and Country Planning Association and the Landscape Institute have raised concerns about whether this is sufficient. We have also heard concerns from Dr Katy Layton-Jones that failing to acknowledge the particular role of parks or distinguishing them from other types of green infrastructure could lead to parks being overlooked. We recommend that the Minister’s cross-departmental group should engage with the parks sector to assess whether the expanded guidance for local authorities on green infrastructure frameworks published in February 2016 adequately provides both for parks as such, and for their role as a part of green infrastructure networks.
96.Defra is currently leading in the development of the Government’s 25-year Environment Plan, and the Town and Country Planning Association and the Landscape Institute suggest that this may provide an opportunity to ensure “that GI is properly embedded in planning and decision-making in the longer term”. The Minister should work with his colleagues in Defra to ensure that parks, and green infrastructure more widely, are properly recognised in the Government’s forthcoming 25-year Environment Plan.
84 See, for example, Mrs Susan Lofthouse ()
85 University of Westminster ()
86 Open Spaces Society ()
87 Live Nation Entertainment Inc ()
88 The Clissold Park User Group ()
89 Dr Bridget Snaith ()
90 London Borough of Camden ()
91 [Andrew Hinchley]
92 [Cllr Lisa Trickett]
93 Mrs Anita Grice-Goldsmith ()
94 Greenspace Wales ()
95 [Will Smithard]
96 [Ian Walmsley]
97 parkrun Limited ()
99 Newcastle City Council () and Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council ()
100 The Parks Alliance ()
101 For example, Clapham Park West Residents Association (), Esther Priestley, Landscape Architect, City of York Council (), Friends of Leazes Park (), Heather Williams ()
102 For example, Esther Priestley, Landscape Architect, City of York Council (), Malmesbury Concert Band ()
103 For example, British Crown Green Bowling Association (), Newcastle Parks Forum (), Friends of Moss Bank Park (), Heather Williams ()
104 For example, Derbyshire County Council (), The Clissold Park User Group ()
105 For example, Friends of Moss Bank Park (), Mrs Jane Edwards ()
106 For example, Derbyshire County Council (), Friends of Kennington Park (), Friends of Saltwell Park ()
107 For example, Friends of Trafford’s Parks and Green Spaces (), Mrs S Witney (), Friends of Leazes Park (), Durham County Council (), Parks for London (), Friends of the Carrs ()
108 For example, Friends of Moss Bank Park (), Bristol Parks Forum (). Despite a 37 per cent increase in the overall number of parks achieving the standard across the UK, the number of winning sites has declined in the North West by 19 per cent, and changed little in the North East, or Yorkshire and Humberside. Keep Britain Tidy, which runs the Green Flag Award Scheme, noted that “A number of local authorities have been unable to maintain the Green Flag Award standard and have significantly reduced the number of applications to the scheme” (Keep Britain Tidy ())
109 Derbyshire County Council ()
110 [Sue Ireland]
111 [Drew Bennellick, Sue Ireland, Ellie Robinson]
112 Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council ()
113 Heritage Lottery Fund ()
114 Birmingham City Council ()
115 The Parks Alliance ()
116 Fields in Trust ()
117 Department of Landscape, Sheffield University ()
118 Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council ()
119 [Andrew Hinchley]
120 Friends of Grangewood Park ()
121 Better Archway Forum ()
122 [Dave Morris]
123 Harrow Recreation Ground Steering Group ()
125 The Parks Alliance ()
126 In July 2015, five-year old Alexia Walenkaki died after play equipment collapsed on her in Mile End Park. As the inquest has not yet taken place, it would not be appropriate for us to comment on the events which led to the sad loss of Alexia. However, we do want to offer our sincere condolences to Alexia’s mother, Ms Vida Kwotuah, and her family for their loss.
127 The Ramblers ()
128 Friends of Longford Park ()
129 Friends of Blythe Hill Fields ()
130 Friends of the Tarn ()
131 Friends of Moor Nook Park ()
132 Birmingham City Council ()
133 [Andrew Hinchley]
135 Town & Country Planning Association ()
136 Mrs Michelle Furtado ()
137 Britain Thinks, Heritage Lottery Fund: State of the UK’s Public Parks II Public Survey: A report prepared by Britain Thinks (June 2016)
138 Mr Peter Neal ()
139 Heritage Lottery Fund ()
140 Haringey Friends of Parks Forum ()
141 [Eddie Curry]
142 Arup ()
143 Mr Peter Neal ()
144 Newcastle City Council ()
145 Bristol Parks Forum ()
146 Friends of Kingswood Park ()
147 Friends of Vauxhall Park ()
148 Department for Communities and Local Government ()
149 Britain Thinks, Heritage Lottery Fund: State of the UK’s Public Parks II Public Survey: A report prepared by Britain Thinks (June 2016)
150 Mrs Mechelle Jacques ()
151 OPENspace Research Centre, University of Edinburgh ()
152 Centre for Diet and Activity Research, University of Cambridge ()
153 Better Archway Forum ()
154 Sport and Recreation Alliance ()
155 [Drew Bennellick]
157 UN, Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (September 2015)
160 Friends of Bromley Town Parks and Gardens ()
161 Newcastle University ()
162 Mr Colin Horton, Green Spaces Officer, Rugby Borough Council ()
163 Parks for London ()
164 Lynda Cole ()
165 Lambeth Parks and Open Spaces Forum ()
166 Friends of Saltwell Park ()
167 London Borough of Camden ()
168 Groundwork ()
169 StreetGames ()
170 [Cllr Lisa Trickett]
171 [Ceri Love]
172 Tyne and Wear Joint Local Access Forum ()
174 Department for Communities and Local Government ()
176 Friends of Langmeads ()
177 The Parks Alliance ()
178 Birmingham City Council ()
179 London Borough of Camden ()
180 Borough of Poole ()
181 Birmingham City Council ()
182 Sefton Council ()
183 Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council ()
184 Chief Cultural and Leisure Officers Association ()
185 Ms Rosemary Perkins ()
186 Harrow Recreation Ground Steering Group ()
187 Save Lea Marshes ()
188 Mrs Meredith Whitten ()
189 Birmingham City Council ()
190 London Borough of Camden ()
191 Leicestershire Local Access Forum ()
192 Urban Forestry and Woodlands Advisory Committee Network ()
193 Land Trust ()
194 [Sue Ireland]
195 [James Harris]
196 Town and Country Planning Association ()
197 Urban Pollinators Ltd ()
198 [Merrick Denton-Thompson]
200 Department for Communities and Local Government, Government response to the report of the House of Lords Select Committee on the Built Environment, , November 2016, para 158
201 Department for Communities and Local Government, Government response to the report of the House of Lords Select Committee on the Built Environment, , November 2016, para 159
203 [Dr Katy Layton-Jones]
7 February 2017