I read with interest that the ex Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, MP for Islington North, led a debate on the stake of parks in Westminster on the 24th October. He apparently spoke passionately about the value and importance of the parks in his constituency.
This debate was brought to my attention by Paul Rabbits, Chair of the Parks Management Association, who posted the information on the PMA website.
Paul said, “We have to applaud Members for bringing this as a debate, as the importance of parks has been long voiced in Government, both locally and centrally. We all know what the benefits are, and Mr Corbyn has eloquently voiced his concerns.”
Paul continued, “Any debate on these issues at this level is welcome. However, there has to be an acknowledgement from all sides of the political spectrum that parks are and remain hugely underfunded. We all know the value of them, to health, leisure, recreation, but one area not covered is the value to nature and part of our attempts at reversing climate change.
“27,000 parks is a huge green estate that has significant potential in ensuring we are part of that battle to combat climate change. However, we keep coming back to the old chestnut on funding. The figures quoted by the honourable members are stark, and it is up to this and the next government to acknowledge the dire need of local government finances - and what is occurring in places like Birmingham, Croydon, Woking and will gather momentum as more and more councils issue S114 notices, and these councils include Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem controlling parties.”
Paul went on to say, “The Hon Member for Redcar cites Albert Park in Middlesbrough, a park I was personally responsible for as Head of Parks Development for Middlesbrough Council and oversaw its remarkable transformation due to a National Lottery Grant nearly 20 years ago. It funded a new parks centre and most importantly, staff to manage that park including a dedicated park manager and park ranger service, with the centre open daily. This has all gone – the whole team has gone, the team I managed to redevelop parks across the town, including Stewart Park – have all gone. They have gone because the council can no longer fund them and the lottery money ran out. Middlesbrough are doing excellent work with the resources they have and are hanging on to their Green Flags, but how long will this last.”
In conclusion Paul said, “As chair of the Parks Management Association and a local authority parks manager of over 35 years, I have seen this boom bust boom bust cycle so many times and we have to find a way of funding our parks long term for our current and future generations – sustainably. Any funding is always welcome but funding has to be realistic, meaningful and can make a difference. Unfortunately, what we have seen so far has barely scratched the surface.”
“As ever, watch this space, but the positive was at least it was debated. The less positive was the response from DLUHC but as expected at this moment in time.”
As Paul states, this issue has being going on for many years. I have, in my own experiences as a parks manager, faced having to deal with budget cuts and the dumbing down of parks services. It was one of the reasons I left the council. I felt my voice was not being heard and I could see a downward spiral of council parks services.
We must be thankful that we still have a national monitoring scheme, run by the Keep Britain Tidy. The Green Flag Award scheme recognises and rewards well managed parks and green spaces, setting the benchmark standard for the management of recreational outdoor spaces across the United Kingdom and around the world.
Its purpose and aims are to ensure that everybody has access to quality green and other open spaces, irrespective of where they live and to ensure that these spaces are appropriately managed and meet the needs of the communities that they serve.
A record number of parks and green spaces, a total of 2,216 across the UK, have reached the high standards required to receive a coveted Green Flag Award in 2023 - the largest number since the scheme began 27 years ago.
I hope that the aforementioned debate may finally initiate some support and interest for parks services and over time that the government (of whichever colour) will see sense and start to invest in these valuable public assets.
However, in the light of several councils going bankrupt, I personally do not see anything happening any time soon. The only way I can see this changing is if the local communities demonstrate their frustration about the state of their local parks.