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22.06.15

London’s green spaces face privatisation

Parks and green spaces in the capital are facing privatisation because councils can no longer afford to fund community groups and volunteers who maintain them, warns London Councils.

Following the government’s recent in-year cuts announcement, the organisation – which represents London’s 32 boroughs and the City of London – is warning councils may soon be unable to support these groups sufficiently to prevent a slide towards privately run parks in the capital by the end of the decade.

According to London Councils, budgets for local authorities in the capital have been cut by 47% in real terms since 2010. Across London local government and among senior figures in the sector, there are fears that parks may be approaching a tipping point.

In the past four years London boroughs’ spending on open spaces, allowing for inflation, has fallen by 18% – with a drop of more than 10% in 2014-15 alone.

Cllr Julian Bell, chair of London Councils’ Transport and Environment Committee, said: “London’s parks are at a crossroads and we cannot continue as we have in the past – the money simply isn’t there. If we pass the tipping point communities risk losing control of parks, along with democratic accountability for the open spaces that they value so much.

“London boroughs face increasing financial pressure and the strain is showing on the resources available for parks, leisure and sports facilities. The current climate of austerity does not suggest the situation will improve.”

Some of the schemes facing cuts include the Streatham Common Co-operative (SCCoop) and the Friends of Queen’s Park Gardens (FQPG).

SCCoop 1(Image: SCCoop volunteers at work on the Rookery.)

Westminster City Council has supported the FQPG since it reformed in the summer of 2012 to rejuvenate the gardens’ Wildlife Area. Last year, the group won a Westminster Community Award.

SCCoop is supported by Lambeth Council and has more than 300 members. It took over management of the Rookery area earlier this year.

Volunteers help maintain the horticulture and wildlife of the area and the group recently won a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The group hopes to take on management of the rest of Streatham Common in 2016 once the council’s current contract expires.

Richard Payne, chair of the SCCoop board of directors, said: “The cuts are a huge challenge for anyone running an open space. SCCoop has much lower overheads than a typical provider as we have a pool of volunteers to draw on, but even so the level of cuts that are planned will challenge us and it is hard to see how all services can be maintained.

“Lambeth Council’s Co-operative Parks Programme provided us with a £20,000 budget – this crucial funding enabled us to establish the business by hiring staff and making the initial capital expenditure ahead of taking on services in the Rookery more formally with the council from March 2015.”

(Top image: Kyoto Garden at Holland Park. By: Piotr Zarobkiewicz)

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opininon@publicsectorexecutive.com

Comments

Mike Drew   22/06/2015 at 14:10

The London Borough should be encouraging the formation of urban parish councils which would be able to take over the running of parks in a democratically accountable way. Until the coalition government parish council could not be created in London but now they are able to be created just as they can in the rest of England.

Jeremy Sacha   22/06/2015 at 17:23

What happens in London today will take place in most other areas tomorrow. In Banbury (North Oxon) the grass verges are not being cut so frequently this year and people are complaining about the place looking tatty. Good landscape management is taken for granted when everything looks fine but the public will soon be up in arms when standards fall.

Josie Mullen   23/06/2015 at 10:04

Take Liverpool as a prime example- the budget for parks has just been cut by 50%. Mayor, Joe Anderson ( no referendum for the people of Liverpool) decides it might be a good idea to take a park in one of the most deprived areas of the city and put a football stadium, 1000 houses and retail outlets on it. Of course, these discussions took place without any prior consultation with local people. Now we hear that there will probably be no money for parks after 2018. Cameron and Osborne like to hide the truth at all times.......extreme austerity is ripping apart and decimating communities and the facilities that help them thrive. They are creating a 'perfect storm' for social unrest.

Gwil Wren   25/06/2015 at 15:06

Access to green space is absolutely vital for everyone to maintain physical and mental health. I understand why Councils are pressured into disposing of them but this needs to be resisted. Not sure that the creation of Parishes is the answer. As a Parish Clerk we are getting services cascaded down but it will cost us much more to run than the District. So our local precept rises and the chargepayer pays more for the service. I have never understood why DCLG dont get this point! We should be looking at less intensive management of green spaces to create more natural areas - this would reduce costs and arguably improve the look of places - although probably not for the 'tidy minded'!

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