Public parks Contents

4How can we secure a sustainable future for parks?

The role of the community

97.Staffordshire County Council, which has been reviewing its approach to its parks, told us that the tight financial circumstances it was facing meant that it was “more important than ever for local people and communities to have a say and become involved in the management of our sites”.205 We agree that local communities have a key role to play in securing a future for England’s parks, but they cannot do it alone. As the Parks Alliance told us:

Momentum is maintained when Friends Groups and other user groups are able to work alongside well-resourced parks services teams. There is a thin line, however, between drawing on the enthusiasm and commitment of volunteers, and exploiting their time and energy. It is important that budget cuts do not force park managers over this line.206

This was echoed by the Friends of Waterloo Seafront Gardens, who told us that “the future of the parks and gardens cannot rely totally on the goodwill of volunteers. [ … ] Many of the volunteers are elderly, and sometimes rely on one or two key people who hold the group together”.207 Similarly, the Friends of Longford Park said that an overreliance on volunteers might not be sustainable, as:

it can’t be assumed that when current volunteers retire they will always be replaced by others with the commitment, time and desire to do something for other people for free. In our experience there is nearly always a struggle to get enough volunteers, it is something that only a relatively small number of people will commit to on a regular and long term basis.208

98.It is not only friends groups who may be able to contribute to their local parks. Lydia Ragoonanan, who led the Rethinking Parks programme for Nesta, suggested that friends groups “do not necessarily always represent the breadth of experience, skills and passion in the community”. She told us about the London Borough of Hackney’s experience of engaging creative people and entrepreneurs to bring forward and develop ideas about how to improve and enhance their parks and open spaces.209

99.Volunteers undoubtedly play an important role in their local parks and we thank them for all that they do. However, it would be unfair and short-sighted to lay responsibility for resolving the challenges wholly at their doors, not least because the distribution of volunteer groups is patchy. The London Green Spaces Friends Groups Network told us that while many friends groups had been established in the last 15 years, “most spaces don’t even have a Friends Group yet so are likely to be in a particularly poor state, or well on the way there”.210 Cllr Trickett of Birmingham City Council highlighted the difficulty of attracting volunteers to assist with all parks:

people volunteer for the things that interest them. Those volunteers are fantastic and their contribution to the area is brilliant, but that does not make those volunteers want to contribute to the pocket park in the most deprived part of my ward where the drug dealers are. In part, if what you do is by total reliance on volunteers, you find that those excluded communities continue to be the most excluded.211

100.Where community or friends groups do exist, they may not have the appetite or the capacity to take on more formal management roles in relation to their parks. Peter Neal told us “Some would, but the proportion of Friends groups that have an appetite to take a formal lease or longer-term ownership is very limited”.212 Other witnesses highlighted that greater involvement of the community in the management or operation of parks would not necessarily lead to savings, or a reduction in local authority investment:

Effective community participation requires more civic leadership not less. To see volunteer development as part of a process of civic disengagement is to court disaster: volunteers should be seen as an addition to, not a replacement for, local authority responsibility.213

101.We welcome the contribution made to parks by friends, volunteer and other community groups and individuals across the country. The time and efforts which people freely give to their parks should not be underestimated, and nor should the benefits for parks, communities and for the individuals themselves.

Innovation and alternative approaches

102.Local authorities, both individually and as part of wider programmes such as Nesta’s Rethinking Parks, are exploring alternative models for the management of their parks, including, for example, parks trusts or formal partnerships with friends groups. Mark Walton, Director of Shared Assets, told us that there were a number of options open to local authorities, for example asset transfer or long leases to social enterprises or charitable trusts, or partnerships with community or other organisations. He argued that “It is about seeing a range of potential options that can either replace or add value to the existing local authority role”.214

103.Eddie Curry, Chair of the Core Cities Parks and Greenspace Group outlined his experience of leases to community groups to manage specialist spaces. He noted that local authorities could encounter difficulties as a result of this approach because “there is only a limited amount of capacity in any authority to do the estates management, asset transfer and also the legal lease documentation”.215 Lydia Ragoonanan told us that, during its Rethinking Parks programme, Nesta had worked with local authorities to test the formal involvement of community groups in the management of parks:

That is not without its difficulties. What we have tended to find is that, while parks groups and others have a real appetite to contribute back to their parks and public spaces, the level of skill, the level of effort and energy involved, really does require some sort of professional expertise that it is perhaps beyond the realms of parks groups necessarily to be able to have.216

104.We explored the parks trust model in detail during our evidence sessions. Some local authorities told us that they had rejected the idea of establishing trusts for some or all of their parks because raising a sufficient endowment would be prohibitive.217 David Foster, Chief Executive of the Milton Keynes Parks Trust, acknowledged that the cost of raising an endowment for a trust could be a barrier for local authorities,218 but told us that:

The real benefit of having a trust is not so much about the funding; it is about setting the parks free and the people who run the parks—setting them free to be innovative and creative. [ … ] an independent trust that has nothing else to do but promote the parks, get them well managed and bring the money in to manage them, with a single purpose, is much more likely to succeed in making them work.219

105.The Land Trust told us that its model, under which it only takes on the management of green spaces with long term financial strategies in place, was sufficiently flexible and adaptable to accommodate different types of land and landowners:

This includes investing up front endowments and Section 106 payments, service charges from commercial and residential sectors, a mixture of both and other income which can be generated from our land, such as licences. We are then able to ensure there is income attached to each green space to protect it long term, whilst generating an annual maintenance budget to ensure each green space is well maintained for the benefit of local communities.220

106.A key issue in relation to the development of new management models for parks is the establishment of transparent governance and accountability structures. Local authorities are ultimately held accountable by their communities at the ballot box; changes to the model by which parks are managed can weaken or remove this link, and it is important that careful thought is given to establishing governance arrangements which provide appropriate oversight and involvement in decision-making for local people. For example, Urban Pollinators Ltd stated:

A powerful argument in favour of local authority control of parks is that of democratic legitimacy. Parks are overseen—ultimately—by democratically elected councillors, and ward councillors can voice local residents’ concerns for the parks in their neighbourhoods. [ … ] it must be accountable to the people who use the parks in as direct a manner as practicable, through transparent decision-making coupled with representative oversight.221

107.Alan Carter of the Land Trust acknowledged the importance of involving local people and communities:

The liabilities that come and the legalities of dealing with land ownership can be tricky, but it is really crucially important to get the local community involved in making the decisions and having what I call the soft ownership: “It feels like it is mine; legally and technically it might not be, but it feels like it may be mine”. They make the decisions about what that green space is used for and what benefits really come from that green space.222

Shared Assets worked with the National Trust and Sheffield City Council to explore whether a parks trust model might be appropriate for Sheffield’s parks. Mark Walton told us that he remained concerned about the potential for charitable trusts to become “self-perpetuating oligarchies”, which lacked suitable transparent governance and accountability to local communities.223 However, David Foster of the Milton Keynes Parks Trust argued that the current challenges facing the parks sector suggested that democratic accountability through local authorities was not currently functioning well for parks because of the range of local authority responsibilities and priorities. He suggested that it was possible to provide for appropriate governance and accountability arrangements which ensure that there is suitable representation from the community among the trustees and that the trust’s activities are in line with appropriate charitable and social objectives. The Charities Commission then has a role to play in ensuring that the trust’s funds are spent only on delivering the trust’s objectives.224

108.Our review considered evidence on the governance of parks across the country. While many parks are very well run directly by local authorities in a traditional management structure, we also saw evidence that alternative management arrangements have been beneficial in some areas. We believe that these alternative management arrangements may have benefits in some additional other parts of the country, dependent on local circumstances, however, where they are used such arrangements must be suitably accountable to local people. The Minister should issue guidance to local authorities setting out key principles for the appropriate governance and accountability arrangements in non-traditionally managed parks which could be put in place as part of any emerging or alternative model for parks management. Such principles might include the involvement of local people in the governance and oversight arrangements and decision-making, or the establishment of appropriate objectives with which the activities of the management model must be aligned. Whatever innovative arrangement may be adopted, ownership of parks should stay with local authorities, as democratically accountable bodies. A new trust, for example, should have a long lease of a park, rather than taking over the freehold.

109.We welcome programmes such as Rethinking Parks, led by Nesta and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. However, it is clear that whatever models individual local authorities explore or adopt, there are risks and costs associated with both the exploration and development of alternative arrangements. The Heritage Lottery Fund and National Trust suggested that there was a need for transitional support to be available to assist pathfinder local authorities.225 We acknowledge the Minister’s view that where service transformation is likely to unlock future savings, local authorities may need to find funds for invest to save projects locally.226 During our visit to Newcastle, we also heard from the National Trust, Newcastle City Council and Social Finance about the potential for local authorities to raise funds to support their parks through a blended model including local authority funding, commercial income, external grants, fundraising, and social investors. They suggested that where external management models, such as parks trusts, were established, such bodies might be able to access alternative funding sources which were not available to local authorities. This was reflected in the evidence we heard about the challenges for local authorities in identifying funding, whether on a transitional or ongoing basis. For example the Herts Association of Cultural Officers Greenspace Managers Group told us that:

while greenspace managers would like to be creative and have followed the research and pilot work undertaken by bodies such as Nesta, it is clear from Nesta’s work there are no magic bullets to reducing revenue costs significantly and quickly, and a number of possible approaches require investment scenarios unlikely to be available from within existing parks budgets.227

We therefore welcome the indication from the Minister that he intended to announce a small amount of additional funding for local authority service transformation. He told us in December this would be made “in the next couple of weeks”.228 We hope that the additional funding for local authority service transformation will be made available without further delay, and expect the Minister to keep us updated on the allocation and impact of the funds in the development of sustainable parks management models.

110.Transitional support for local authorities might also be in the form of expertise. For example, during our visit to Newcastle, we heard from Newcastle City Council about the work it is doing to develop a citywide trust model for its parks. The Council has been working with the National Trust and other partners to access expertise, but has nonetheless encountered some specific administrative and legal barriers and challenges. Such barriers include the complexity of conveyancing for multiple sites, and the impact of the restrictive covenants which apply to some of its parks which were gifted to the City by philanthropists. Eddie Curry of the Core Cities Parks and Greenspace Group told us that: “Many parks come with endowments or covenants from previous land, philanthropic transfers and gifts from past years, which can often make the transfer into a new trust model quite challenging to overcome. Unpicking all those legal conditions can be a bit of a challenge at times”.229 We asked the Minister whether he was aware of these barriers, or had had discussions with Newcastle City Council about possible solutions—he confirmed that he had not, but that:

Where it is to do with trust law and deeds, some of these covenants are very difficult and require lengthy legal processes to overturn them. I am happy to look at them. If this is a general issue, I would hope, through the forum that I want to convene, that we could perhaps share practice and hear some of the problems, so that we get an impression of how big an issue this is generally.230

111.We believe that addressing the challenges which face the parks sector in a way which secures a sustainable future for England’s parks may require fundamental service transformation, which takes into account the wider value and benefits which parks deliver, beyond their amenity and leisure value. We have received a wide range of suggestions for alternative funding sources for parks, and examples of different approaches to parks management. We have not listed all of them, or explored the merits or otherwise of each in detail—the applicability of each for specific parks or local authorities will depend on local circumstances. However we would urge the Minister, the LGA and local authorities to read and reflect on the evidence we have received as part of our inquiry, and to consider whether and how to take forward the various suggestions made.

112.To support service transformation which parks require, the Minister and his cross-departmental group should work with local authorities which are pioneering alternative management models or funding arrangements, to address the barriers and manage the risks which arise and identify additional transitional support or funding which may be appropriate to nurture the development of such models. For example, the Minister should consider the proposals made by the National Trust and Newcastle City Council for indemnities for local authorities which wish to transfer land to parks trusts, and for the establishment of a public interest test to enable local authorities to overturn restrictive covenants, where such covenants hinder the authority’s ability to safeguard public parks.

113.The Minister and his cross-departmental group should encourage and facilitate the evaluation and benchmarking of emerging models for parks management, and the sharing of best practice within England and from elsewhere in the UK or internationally as appropriate.

A statutory duty to provide and maintain parks

114.Responsibility for parks lies with local authorities. Many of those who submitted written evidence to our inquiry have called in the strongest terms for there to be a statutory duty on local authorities to provide and maintain public parks. Indeed, more than 320,000 people have signed a petition calling for such a statutory duty to be imposed:

Parks matter, and they belong to all of us. Whether it’s a playground to take our children to at the weekends, or a place to enjoy our lunch in the sunshine, parks are amazing places.

We want the government to make protecting parks a legal requirement to make sure they’re properly looked after and kept free for everyone to use.

The committee can’t personally create a statutory duty for the upkeep of our parks, but they can recommend one based on the results of their consultation. We’re calling on the committee to make the strongest recommendations possible to protect our parks.231

Figure 6: 38 Degrees petition presentation

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Source: 38 Degrees

115.Many of those who called for a statutory duty to be imposed on local authorities cited the difficult choices which local authorities are faced with in prioritising resources. The Association for Public Service Excellence’s State of the Market Report for Parks 2016 found that almost 80 per cent of parks managers felt that local authority budget reductions were falling disproportionately on parks and green spaces.232 Urban Pollinators Ltd illustrated the issue:

At a local level, councils must balance the stewardship of their parks with a host of statutory duties. As resources are squeezed the most urgent duties will take priority. A local authority forced to choose between safeguarding a child at risk of abuse today and caring for a green space tomorrow has no moral choice: the child must be safeguarded. To put councils in a position where such choices become routine is to cement the neglect of parks and green spaces into everyday practice.233

In their 2003 inquiry into green spaces, our predecessors concluded that a statutory duty of care for public spaces might encourage local authorities to give parks and open spaces greater priority when making funding decisions. They recommended that such a duty should be imposed.234

116.Dave Morris, the Chair of the National Federation of Parks and Greenspaces (NFPGS), told us that in his experience many members of the public did not realise that local authorities did not have a statutory duty to provide and maintain parks. Noting the relatively low cost of parks services when compared to other infrastructure services, for example transport or power, he highlighted the model statutory duty which his group had developed to require local authorities to “provide adequate funding levels to make sure that [parks] are properly managed to agreed standards”.235 Under the NFPGS’s model, local authorities would be required to monitor all publicly accessible green spaces, and ensure that they were managed to a nationally agreed standard, similar to the Green Flag standard. The NFPGS suggested that the duty could be enforced through landowner self-assessments, annual reviews of parks by local authorities, and local authorities’ annual audits. In addition, the model would require parks funding, including core local authority funding and additional capital grants, to be “sourced and ring-fenced from Central Government via existing budgets [ … ] or additional national taxation sources. These could be supplemented in part by local authority additional taxation potential, and other sources”.236

117.However, we also heard evidence about the potential challenges which would be presented by the imposition of such a statutory duty. Cllr Matthew Balfour of Kent County Council suggested that establishing a statutory common standard could result in a “race to the bottom”, wherein budget pressures would mean that parks which currently exceed the standard would be managed down.237 Drew Bennellick, Head of Landscape and Natural Heritage UK at the Heritage Lottery Fund, outlined the challenges of prescribing the standards which parks would have to adhere to, and the challenges of measuring and enforcing a statutory duty.238 Similarly, Andrew Hinchley, Green Space Development Manager at the London Borough of Camden told us that:

Personally, I think that the implications of a statutory function for parks is still very unclear, in terms of how it would function, what it would mean and how you would decide where to draw the line in terms of what priority it should provide, or what its character should be. How do you put a standard on the quality for all green spaces in an authority? I currently find it quite hard to see how that would transpire, and I think it would take a lot more work to explore the implications of it.

I am also not clear what some of the implications are for some of the income generation methods that we use at the moment. I believe there are differences with a statutory function, in terms of whether you can charge for it or not.239

118.Many of our witnesses argued that a statutory duty alone would not be sufficient to safeguard and protect parks, since the duty would need to be expressed sufficiently clearly, and accompanied by sufficient funding to support the service. The example of library provision was raised by some as a cautionary tale:

the experience of library provision over the last decade suggests that even where a statutory duty exists, it is not sufficient to protect either the scope of the quality of a service. The story of libraries in the last six years has been one of creeping reductions in opening hours, staffing and branch provision, with local libraries morphing into vestigial ‘community’ services while the statutory duty box is ticked by maintaining a central library.240

119.The Minister told us that:

The sheer variety of what is included when we talk about green space in general means that having a statutory duty could be quite challenging. I am not convinced that it is needed. At a time when Government are requiring local authorities to make some relatively difficult decisions around funding, I do not think we should be placing upon them extra statutory burdens and duties, which may not do a great deal to protect green spaces or the amount of funding a local authority puts towards them.241

We agree with the Minister that local authorities are best placed to plan and prioritise the services they deliver and determine how they use the resources available to them to meet local needs. However, the scale of the reductions to local authority budgets in recent years means that local authorities are increasingly faced with difficult choices about how to prioritise resources. We recognise that the pressures on budgets may disproportionately disadvantage discretionary services, such as parks. However, we are not persuaded that a statutory duty on local authorities to provide and maintain parks, which could be burdensome and complex, would achieve the intended outcomes.

A workable alternative

120.We appreciate that our decision not to recommend a statutory duty to provide and maintain parks at this time may be disappointing to many of those who have given evidence to our inquiry. However, we believe that other mechanisms are more likely to achieve the outcomes we all want to see—greater recognition of the value and benefits of parks, and appropriate prioritisation in local authority planning and funding decisions. When representatives of the 322,000 people who signed the 38 Degrees petition calling for a statutory duty gave evidence to us, we asked them to tell us what they hoped that the imposition of a statutory duty to provide and maintain parks would achieve. Charlotte Woodworth, Campaign Director at 38 Degrees, told us:

The bottom line is that we want to make sure that parks do not fall through the cracks, and a statutory duty seems to be something that a number of experts have recommended. I know you will be hearing from a number of other people today who are talking about it, and at this juncture it is where our members are at. As I say, however, we would be prepared to consider other options and talk further with them around it.242

We share 38 Degrees’ desire to ensure that parks do not slip through the cracks. However, we are not persuaded, for the reasons we have outlined above, that a statutory duty to provide and maintain parks is the most effective way to achieve this objective.

121.The Ramblers told us that they wanted to see local authorities providing “support for parks in a more joined up way, working across departments such as health, transport, planning and education to increase funding for parks and ensure that parks directly contribute to the objectives of the entire authority”.243 We agree that this joined up approach is vital. Parks and green spaces contribute to many local authority objectives, and many local authority services have contributions to make to parks and green spaces. We have considered two alternatives by which this joined up approach might be achieved:

a)nomination of a senior elected member and a senior official within each local authority as parks champions, with responsibility for ensuring that the local authority takes a coordinated and joined up approach to its parks and green spaces;

b)a statutory duty for local authorities, working with Health and Wellbeing Boards, to prepare and publish parks and green space strategies which clearly articulate the contribution of parks to wider local authority objectives and set out how parks will be managed to maximise such contributions.

Parks champions

122.Research shows that where local authorities appoint an elected member as a local parks champion, they report a higher proportion of their parks to be improving.244 The designation of parks leads was supported by Eddie Curry, Chair of the Core Cities Parks and Greenspace Group, who told us that:

the reality is that having a controlling mind and someone who can lead that strategic framework, and drive the partnerships and engagement with the community is absolutely critical. We have seen, time and time again over the last five or six years, where park departments have disappeared and the agenda suddenly slips off the political agenda and disappears in importance in terms of its profile. Parks deteriorate very quickly if they are not given a very clear profile.245

123.We recognise, in principle, the benefits of designating senior elected members and officials as parks champions with responsibility for highlighting and coordinating the contribution which parks make to the achievement of broader council objectives, and for preparing strategies for their parks and green spaces. Local authorities which do not yet have such champions could consider appointing them. However, we are concerned that, in practice, the parks champion title would simply be applied to those senior officers and members who already have responsibility for parks and green spaces, and would not, therefore, make a significant difference to the status quo. Local authorities which currently value their parks and green spaces and recognise the wider contributions they make would continue to do so, and those which do not would be unlikely to see significant changes.

Parks and green space strategies

124.The second alternative which has been suggested to us is the imposition of a statutory duty for local authorities to prepare and publish parks and green space strategies. Keep Britain Tidy, which runs the Green Flag Award scheme for parks in the UK, told us that it was beginning to see declining scores for the quality of parks management plans. It described this as concerning, noting that:

Without these plans our parks will lack future focus, direction and a framework to maintain standards. The reduction in the quality of planning can only lead to the decline of parks in future years.246

Only 48 per cent of local authorities have current green space strategies—down from 76 per cent in 2014.247 The Minister said that he was not persuaded that “it necessarily follows that having a formal plan adopted by the local authority means you are therefore doing a better job of maintaining your green spaces than authorities that do not”.248 However, evidence shows that local authorities which have up to date strategies in place are more likely to report their parks to be in a good or improving condition, whereas only 18 per cent of local authorities for whom parks are not a corporate priority reported their parks to be improving in 2016.249 The Town and Country Planning Association explained the benefits of taking a strategic approach to an area’s parks:

If you take a strategic look at your green space, you can start to put the resources where they will have most effect. It might even be that some areas have an over-provision of green space while others have an under-provision. You may even have a good reason to sell off a small patch of green space in one area, and invest that money in improving and expanding green spaces in another area. If you have a strategic view you can do that, in consultation with your community. If you do not, it becomes a hotchpotch, and you end up with these tiny little playgrounds that nobody wants or uses, rather than thinking about how you can maximise the benefits.250

125.The Parks Alliance told us that there is currently a lack of routinely collated and analysed data on the state of parks in the UK, which makes it difficult to fully understand how they are used, managed or invested in. It suggests that one result of the lack of data is that parks receive a low priority in policy and decision-making.251 To this end, the Heritage Lottery Fund suggested that a statutory duty should be imposed, requiring local authorities to produce and maintain a funding and investment strategy for their parks and green spaces, and publish annual data on quantity, quality and funding for parks.252 The Parks Alliance posed what we believe is the key question in relation to whether the provision of parks should be a statutory service: “The question boils down to is there a credible plan for ensuring the viability of our public parks and open spaces? If there is not, then the case for it to become a statutory service is considerably strengthened”.253

126.We acknowledge the argument that a statutory duty on local authorities and Health and Wellbeing Boards to prepare and publish parks and green space strategies could encourage greater joint working within local authorities, increase the profile of parks and green spaces and their contribution to wider local authority objectives, and facilitate the contribution by other service areas to parks and green space services. Such strategies might also serve to improve the quality of data available about parks and green spaces. We would expect local authorities and Health and Wellbeing Boards, in the preparation of such strategies, to include the amenity and leisure value of parks and green spaces, and how they will be managed to maximise their contributions to broader local authority responsibilities and agendas—for example public health and preventative health, the local economy, climate change and flood risk mitigation, air quality, and biodiversity—as well as to the responsibilities of other bodies, such as the Environment Agency. We recommend that the Minister issues very clear guidance to local authorities that they should work collaboratively with Health and Wellbeing Boards, and other relevant bodies where appropriate, to prepare and publish joint parks and green space strategies.

127.The Minister’s cross-departmental working group should monitor the preparation and publication of joint parks and green space strategies, and report annually on progress made, by way of written statements to the House. If the guidance does not prove effective in encouraging local authorities and Health and Wellbeing Boards to collaborate on the production of joint strategies, or the joint strategies which are produced do not prove effective in raising the profile and priority afforded to parks, the Minister should consider legislating to place a statutory duty on local authorities to collaborate with Health and Wellbeing Boards to prepare and publish joint parks and green space strategies.

Coordination and leadership

128.The then Office of the Deputy Prime Minister established CABE Space in 2003 as a specialist unit within the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE)—the Government’s adviser on architecture, urban design and public space between 1999 and 2011.254 CABE Space acted as a national, Government-funded body with responsibility for supporting the development of strategic approaches for green spaces, publishing good practice guides, promoting participation and quality tools, publishing guidance on the benefits of good quality public space, and providing training for parks professionals.255 In 2011, CABE was merged with the Design Council (a self-sustaining charity), and ceased to be a non-departmental public body. The Design Council told us that “As part of this merger, some programmes were closed or changed, including CABE Space”.256 In addition to CABE Space, parks managers and community groups could access a national charity, Greenspace, for a knowledge base, guidance, and support and assistance to improve and enhance their parks. Greenspace closed in 2013 in England, although Greenspace Scotland and Greenspace Wales continue to operate. In 2015, Greenspace Scotland supported the development of a professional network for park managers from Scottish local authorities. The network’s role is to support the professional and operational development of park managers, facilitate the sharing of best practice, and develop skills.257

129.Throughout our inquiry, witnesses have told us that addressing the challenges facing the parks sector in England will require greater coordination and leadership at a national level. As Ellie Robinson from the National Trust told us:

there is nothing to bring the sector together at the moment. We know from [local authorities’] asks of us for help that they are all reinventing wheels: spending local taxpayers’ money answering the same legal or tax questions, or areas of scope for their green space strategies. There is a desperate need to be able to provide a shared platform where they can share best practice, and you can innovate once and share.258

Andrew Hinchley of the London Borough of Camden acknowledged that in London there were a number of networks, for example to encourage benchmarking, and forums to help connect people, but said that:

That is a helpful tool, but what is missing is something at a national level. There seems to be a void since CABE Space and Greenspace disappeared, which is not pulling together the best practice that we talked about earlier.

Because of the shift to where we need to look at wider benefits of green space, there is a need to step back and take that strategic look, and that is more difficult when there is not someone collating it for you at a national level. There is a lot of repetition and reinventing the wheel going on at the moment among authorities, because that is not there.259

130.We heard from some witnesses that devolution in England could provide significant opportunities for a more coordinated approach to parks and green spaces. The Landscape Institute acknowledged the synergy between localism and parks, but argued that considering parks as part of wider, cross-boundary networks at a city region level would assist in targeting investment, focusing on solutions, and avoiding a piecemeal approach to neighbourhood planning.260 The Royal Town Planning Institute suggested that devolution to date had not placed sufficient emphasis on the potential benefits of a strategic approach to green infrastructure:

I see potential from the devolution agenda in terms of places being able to bring together all of their funding for things like housing, transport, health and green space and combine them. [ … ] Taking a place-based approach that combines lots of different local authorities and looks at the most efficient spend of all different types of budgets, I think you would probably find that there would be good evidence for spending health and transport money, etc, on strategic green infrastructure networks. However, it is better to do it at the scale of, say, a combined authority than at the scale of individual local authorities.261

131.We agree with the assessment of the Land Trust that:

Government must recognise that funding parks is a cost effective means of delivering a range of its wider objectives relating to health, well-being, housing, economic development and more, and must therefore be supported for their continued evolution accordingly, as well as having greater synergy with the evolving public health and wellbeing agenda.262

132.We welcome the steps taken by the parks sector in England to fill the gap left by CABE Space and Greenspace, such as the establishment of the Parks Alliance and the National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces, the Future Parks project led by the National Trust, and the work undertaken as part of Nesta’s Rethinking Parks programme to bring together a database of people and groups with an interest in parks. However, these initiatives, although important and commendable, will not necessarily be enough to provide the coordination and facilitate the sharing of best practice which we believe is necessary to secure and support a sustainable future for England’s parks. We believe that the importance of parks to national strategic objectives such as climate change mitigation and public health mean that there needs to be leadership and vision at the level of national government. We look to the Minister to provide this.

133.The Department for Communities and Local Government is the Government department which has lead responsibility for green space in England. This role includes responsibility for coordinating with other relevant departments and agencies, including Natural England, the Forestry Commission, the Department for Health, Public Health England, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. We have heard concerns about the extent to which that coordination role has been adequately performed. For example, Julia Thrift, Projects and Operations Director at the Town and Country Planning Association, told us:

The problem is that parks are always, “Dah-di-dah-di-dah—and parks.” They come bottom of the list and they are neglected and forgotten. It is a problem at a national level across Government. We have got Defra responsible for the natural environment, DCLG responsible for urban green spaces, DCMS responsible for playing fields, and NHS estates responsible for large quantities of green space around hospitals. We have BEIS mapping green spaces. It is a muddle and it is not coordinated. Whether it is a job for the Cabinet Office, I do not know, but we somehow have to get parks and green spaces out of this very marginal local authority leisure place, and right up to being really important national strategic infrastructure.263

134.We welcome the Minister’s confirmation that he recognises the current lack of coordination, and his intention to establish a cross-departmental group to consider our report and recommendations.264 We believe that the Minister’s cross-departmental group should have an ongoing role in providing coordination and leadership within the parks sector to ensure that the Minister’s vision for parks is delivered. We call on the Minister to publish, in his response to our report, details of the cross-departmental group’s membership, terms of reference, initial priorities, how often it will meet, and how it will work collaboratively with the parks sector and the Local Government Association to secure a sustainable future for England’s parks. We believe that early priorities for the group should include:

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205 Staffordshire County Council (PKS104)

206 The Parks Alliance (PKS084)

207 Friends of Waterloo Seafront Gardens (PKS117)

208 Friends of Longford Park (PKS155)

209 Q116 [Lydia Ragoonanan]

210 London Green Spaces Friends Groups Network (PKS164)

211 Q88 [Cllr Lisa Trickett]

212 Q22 [Peter Neal]

213 The Parks Agency Ltd (PKS103)

214 Q123 [Mark Walton]

215 Q115 [Eddie Curry]

216 Q112 [Lydia Ragoonanan]

217 Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council (PKS252), Sheffield City Council (PKS310)

218 Q125 [David Foster]

219 Q123 [David Foster]

220 The Land Trust (PKS136)

221 Urban Pollinators Ltd (PKS046)

222 Q123 [Alan Carter]

223 Q126 [Mark Walton]

224 Qq 137–9 [David Foster]

225 Q15 [Ellie Robinson] and Q21 [Drew Bennellick]

227 Herts Association of Cultural Officers Greenspace Managers Group (PKS181)

229 Q121 [Eddie Curry]

232 Association for Public Service Excellence (PKS304)

233 Urban Pollinators Ltd (PKS046)

234 Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Committee, Eleventh Report of Session 2002–03, Living Places: Cleaner, Safer, Greener, HC 673-I

235 Q33 [Dave Morris]

236 National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces (PKS400)

237 Q62 [Cllr Balfour]

238 Q18 [Drew Bennellick]

239 Q59 [Andrew Hinchley]

240 Urban Pollinators Ltd (PKS046)

243 The Ramblers (PKS151)

244 Mr Peter Neal (PKS324)

245 Q120 [Eddie Curry]

246 Keep Britain Tidy (PKS147)

247 Heritage Lottery Fund (PKS275)

249 Heritage Lottery Fund (PKS275)

250 Q96 [Julia Thrift]

251 The Parks Alliance (PKS084)

252 Heritage Lottery Fund (PKS275)

253 The Parks Alliance (PKS084)

254 CABE was established in 1999 as an executive non-departmental public body, sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. It also received funding from the Department for Communities and Local Government, and from other government departments and public agencies to run specific programmes. In 2011, following the Government’s review of public bodies and the comprehensive spending review, Government funding was withdrawn and CABE ceased to be a non-departmental public body.

255 Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, CABE Space (January 2011)

256 Correspondence from Clare Devine, Executive Director at the Design Council, to the Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee, 28 November 2016

257 Greenspace Scotland and Park Managers Forum (Scotland) (PKS177)

258 Q15 [Ellie Robinson]

259 Q87 [Andrew Hinchley]

260 The Landscape Institute (PKS300)

261 Q99 [James Harris]

262 The Land Trust (PKS136)

263 Q105 [Julia Thrift]

7 February 2017