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Securing the future of public parks

Mark Walton

We provided evidence to the recent Communities and Local Government Committee inquiry into the future of public parks. Here we set out our response to the Committee’s report.

We were pleased to be able to provide both written and oral evidence to the Communities and Local Government Committee inquiry into the future of public parks.

The Committee’s report, published on Saturday, states that “parks are at a tipping point” and makes a range of recommendations that aim to prevent a period of decline.

Below we set out our response to the report, identifying those recommendations that we welcome, and where we believe the Committee should have gone further. Finally we outline where we believe Shared Assets can best support the delivery of the Committee’s recommendations, and highlight our forthcoming training on new models for parks.

 

We welcome the report’s recognition of:

  • The multiple benefits of parks, and the suggested measures to improve their valuation, and to secure new contributions towards the delivery of these benefits, including:
    • the development and application of robust, transferrable models which local authorities can use to assess the value of their parks,
    • thinking about parks as one element of wider green infrastructure networks,
    • recognising the importance of parks and green space in Local Plans
    • working collaboratively with Health and Wellbeing Boards to prepare and publish joint parks and green space strategies.
  • The tensions inherent in managing parks, and the need for mechanisms to consult with communities about the principles that will inform decision-making about them.
  • The importance of seeing parks as a portfolio and the redistributive function of local authorities in ensuring that everyone has access to good quality parks and open spaces, even if resources such as commercial income or volunteer labour are not equally available.
  • The need for all plans for capital investment to be accompanied by sustainable plans to meet ongoing revenue requirements, and the need for local authorities to be able to use Section 106 and Community Infrastructure Levy funds to cover these.
  • The complexities of governance, and the importance of local accountability in how parks are managed, including the need for the development of principles for governance and accountability in non-traditionally managed parks. We particularly welcome the recommendation that parks should remain in public ownership.
  • The need for stronger national leadership, and a closer working between CLG and Defra to ensure that parks are recognised in the Government’s forthcoming 25-year Environment Plan.

Other recommendations, whilst also welcome, need to go further:

  • The Committee recognises the UK’s duty under the UN Sustainable Development Goals, to ensure that there will be universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces by 2030. However we want to see a stronger commitment to ensuring that public open spaces are places where citizens are able to realise basic human rights, to health, education, and cultural expression, and to freely assemble, exchange ideas, and express views.
  • The Committee highlights the need for greater coordination, benchmarking and best practice and proposes the establishment of a website to share emerging practice. We believe that there is a need for an organisation, hub, or collaborative “ParkLab”, that is resourced to identify what works and to act as a home for impartial information during this period of service transformation.
  • The roles of parks professionals at all levels are changing. The Committee recommends more regional forums, but we believe more structured training and support is required. This should include the development of leadership skills to take internal and external stakeholders through the necessary transformation.

Finally we are disappointed at the lack of a recommendation for a statutory duty and the failure of the Committee to address the issue of resources.

  • We recognise that creating a statutory duty would not be a panacea. However, if the provision of good quality, publicly owned, and free to access parks, is not to be a duty, then how will this provision be protected against the levels of cuts currently being experienced?
  • Implementing the Committee’s recommendations will take time, money and resources. Aside from a “hope that the additional funding for local authority service transformation will be made available without further delay” the Committee have dodged the question of how these recommendations will be resourced. Local authorities don’t have that luxury.

We now look to the Minister to deliver the recommendations of the committee and identify how they will be resourced.

Shared Assets is keen to support the delivery of these recommendations by:

  • Drawing on our experience to support the development of guidance regarding appropriate governance and accountability arrangements in non-traditionally managed parks.
  • Supporting the inclusion of parks in Defra’s 25 year environment plan through our involvement in Defra’s Civil Society Partnership Network
  • Working with others in the sector to develop a more coordinated approach to sharing learning with, and providing training and support for, all those developing and implementing new models for parks and open spaces.

In the meantime we will continue to:

  • Provide support to local authorities and communities developing and implementing new models for the management of parks.
  • Draw on and share our experiences to identify what works, and support the development of new sustainable models of parks management, and
  • Advocate for policy changes that will protect our public parks and ensure they deliver the widest possible public benefit.

Our current support offer includes two new training courses aimed at local authorities involved in the development and management of parks:

  • Designing New Models for Parks, 14th March, Conway Hall, London
  • Implementing New Models for Parks, 21st March, Conway Hall, London

Click here for more details and a booking form.

 

 

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