Warning that parks are ‘not a luxury’ as report reveals extent of cuts

Local parks are bearing the brunt of funding cuts, the Heritage Lottery Fund has found in a new report.

The State of the UK Public Parks 2016 report found that councils’ parks and green spaces budgets have been cut by around 18.4% or £240m.

None of the local authorities surveyed said that they thought they would increase their parks budget in the next three years, as they face ongoing funding cuts.

Ros Kerslake, chief executive of the Heritage Lottery Fund, said: “Put simply, parks are not a luxury. They are essential to our increasingly busy urban lives and thanks to National Lottery players they’ve never been in such great shape.

“But these are financially tough times and if we are to successfully halt the onset of decline in our parks and avoid wasting this investment, we need to come together now to find innovative and sustainable models of funding and maintaining these highly valued community spaces.”

In addition, 81.3% of councils have cut management staff in the parks sector and 77.4% have cut operational staff.

English unitary authorities expected to have the greatest cuts in staff in the next three years, with an average of 18.2% staff reductions.

Despite the fact that 83% of park managers reported that their park’s condition had remained stable or improved in the past three years, the number expecting it to do so in the next three years fell to 61.7%.

Cllr Ian Stephens, chair of the LGA's culture, tourism and sport board, said: "Councils understand how important parks are to residents and the value they have in promoting health and fitness, local heritage, public art, festivals and wildlife walks.

"As this report recognises, councils are taking innovative approaches to using park spaces, such as providing pop-up spaces for local businesses and giving communities a say in how their parks are run.

"Ensuring parks are maintained to the highest standard is paramount. However, over the previous parliament central government funding for councils was reduced by 40% in real terms. Despite this difficult backdrop, councils are doing everything they can to provide the best possible park services."

The Heritage Lottery Fund said that councils should protect parks by developing strategies for investing in them and appointing an elected member as a champion for parks.

In addition, it recommended seeking partners to manage parks, including public, private, third sector and community partners.

A spokesperson for the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said: “Councils will have nearly £200bn to spend over the course of this Parliament. They should be able to manage their budgets to deliver services local people want, including maintaining public parks.”

The DCLG has launched an inquiry into the future of public parks, as well as introducing proposals to convert metropolitan public places into 'pocket parks.'

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