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Heritage Lottery Fund Report – Public parks under threat

New report from the Heritage Lottery Fund reveals growing risk that could see parks become run down ‘no go areas’ or even sold

Today, the Heritage Lottery Fund has published State of UK Public Parks 2014: Renaissance to risk? its first report to comprehensively review the condition and management of the UK’s public parks.  Two decades of public and Lottery investment has ensured that the majority of UK parks are in better condition, but unless future funding is generated in new ways, parks are at serious risk of rapid decline and even being sold off and lost to the public forever.

Dame Jenny Abramsky, Chair of HLF, said:  “This report makes for sobering reading.  Parks are highly valued, precious places that are vital to our physical and emotional well-being.  Following decades of decline, Lottery funding sparked a parks renaissance but that is now at risk.  We realise these are financially tough times and that is why we need  collaborative action and a fresh approach to halt this threat of decline and stop this cycle of boom and bust. Our parks are far too important not to act now.”

State of UK Public Parks 2014 - image 7 (s)Key findings from the research*:

Parks are under direct threat

  • 86% of parks managers report cuts to revenue budgets since 2010, a trend they expect to continue over the next three years.  This could mean: park facilities such as cafes and toilets are closed or opening hours reduced; grass left uncut, flower beds left empty, play areas less regularly cleaned and inspected and more anti-social behaviour due to less park staff
  • 45% of local authorities are considering either selling parks and green spaces or transferring their management to others.  This could mean:.loss of some parks, parts of parks and other green spaces, management of parks being divided between different organisations, community groups being asked to take on larger parks and needing support to do so effectively.
  • 81% of council parks departments have lost skilled management staff since 2010 and 77% have lost front-line staff.    

Parks are one of the most highly used public assets

  • With 34 million people estimated to make regular visits parks are one of the UK’s most heavily used public services
  • 68% of park users consider spending time in their local park as important or essential to their quality of life.  This rises to 71% in urban areas and 81% for those with children under 10.
  • 70% of park managers have recorded increased visitor numbers to their principal parks over the last year.

Trend towards greater community involvement

  • In the past three years park managers have seen an increase of over 30% in the number of friends and park user groups and over half of expect this increase to continue.
  • 47% of park friends groups say membership numbers have increased over the last three years.
  • Community groups are playing an increasing role in championing and supporting parks – with an estimated £30million raised for parks annually by friends groups.

State of UK Public Parks 2014 - image 8Responding to the report Harry Bowell, Regional Director at the National Trust said, “We know people love being outdoors and some of their most treasured spaces to relax and play are those on their doorstep, their local parks and green spaces. This groundbreaking report from HLF is a wake -call.  The traditional model for funding public parks is breaking down and bold new ideas are needed. We want to help find solutions that could work in every city and town.”

Protecting £700m Lottery investment

Parks have enjoyed a twenty year renaissance as a result, in part, of £700million of Lottery investment.  However, local authorities have no statutory requirement to fund and maintain them.  Neither is there a national coordinating body able to champion the importance of parks, to assert their value to communities and the economy, and protect them for future generations to enjoy.

In addition to calling for continued investment by local authorities, HLF’s report highlights the need to develop new ways of looking after and funding parks. It highlights five key areas needing urgent joint action to ensure past investment is not wasted.

HLF pledges to:

  • Continue to monitor and report on the public parks across the UK it has invested in;
  • Invest in innovative ideas for making parks financially sustainable, through the Lottery and Nesta funded Rethinking Parks programme – details below.
  • Continue investing up to £24m each year across the UK through the Parks for People programme, with Big Lottery Fund providing an additional £10m per year in England until the end of 2015.
  • Commission and publish a second  State of UK Public Parks report in  2016 to review progress

Finding new innovative ways to make the financing and management of parks sustainable is vital to ensuring their future. HLF and the Big Lottery Fund are working in partnership with the innovation charity Nesta on a Rethinking Parks programme.  This is supporting organisations and partnerships to explore, test and scale new approaches to generating income for and managing parks.  Shortly to be announced are grants totaling £1million that will enable a range of innovative park projects to be piloted.  Full details will be announced in July 2014.

Lydia Ragoonanan, Rethinking Parks programme manager at Nesta:  “Heritage Lottery Fund’s report is very welcome and shines a light on the huge challenges facing our parks. We’re excited to be supporting potential solutions to these challenges through the Rethinking Parks programme which will help parks to develop, test and share new ways to manage their parks.  From membership schemes to pop-up meeting spaces and new horticultural techniques, we want to see if these ideas could help sustain our precious parks long into the future.”

Two Rethinking Parks projects (full list of awardees to be announced in July 2014)

  • Endowing Parks for the 21st Century

National Trust, in partnership with Sheffield and Manchester local authorities

This project aims to develop and test ways to raise money for a ring-fenced endowment for public parks.  It will explore how to attract and secure funds for the endowment from sources not typically used by parks, including: public giving; corporate giving; local public sector funding; and also investment in the ‘eco’ services that are provided by parks such as flood management and air quality.

Harry Bowell continued: “Our new project, funded by the Rethinking Parks programme, aims to harness the huge value and wide range of benefits that parks provide to demonstrate the potential of endowments in securing the future for public parks for everyone. There is a real prize out of this crisis to grow civic pride, connecting people to their local green spaces and giving communities more of a stake in shaping their future.

“We’re excited by the project and look forward to working with our partners in Sheffield and Manchester. Although this project is not about the National Trust owning public parks, it does go right back to the roots of the National Trust and campaigns by our founders to save urban green spaces in London.”

  • Go to the Park, Burnley – Towneley Park

Burnley Borough Council and Newground

This project will test new approaches to help cut costs and increase income in parks.  These approaches may include managing grasslands in parks as meadows, introduction of bee farms, growing borage in wilder areas to produce starflower oil (used like Evening Primrose Oil) and managing woodland for woodfuel. A Volunteer in Parks programme (VIP) will also encourage community involvement.

To see the report in full click here



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