New parks funding needed to halt decline

Many recently restored parks are in serious decline, and the Government should consider the introduction of statutory funding as soon as possible.

Submitting evidence for the recent Communities and Local Government Committee’s inquiry into public parks, LDA Design argued that the value from the £850m investment by the Heritage Lottery Fund is being widely eroded.

Parks are suffering from cuts to local authority budgets. Although there is a general public assumption that parks look after themselves, in fact there is no requirement to maintain them to any standard. This is borne out by the number of Grade II* strategic parks in London currently on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register.

Parks play a vital role in people’s health and well-being. In Victoria Park in Tower Hamlets, the most deprived borough in the UK, visits rose from nine million per year in 2009 before restoration to 12 million per year in 2014, post restoration. This is double the number at the UK’s leading free visitor attraction, the British Museum.

We have found that the erosion of park quality is often quite gradual. The trajectory is a ‘G&T’ (Grass and Trees) landscape with turfing-over of flower beds, removal of play equipment, fountains left dry and parks left open at night, leading to anti-social behaviour.  All this rapidly starts to discourage visits.

We have worked on the nation’s most prestigious historic public parks as well as some of the smallest – equally important – local parks. Most require some level of guaranteed income for maintenance. Relying on events to generate income can adversely impact on the park environment, with substantial areas fenced off for long periods. Profits are then frequently used to make up shortfalls in other services and even cash from the sale of assets such as lodges and public toilets may not be reinvested into the park.

Statutory funding needs to be implemented as a matter of urgency if further decline is to be halted. Meanwhile other avenues can be explored.  Where a public park is on the border between local authorities, for example, but funded by only one, the neighbouring authorities should be obliged to contribute; and Section 106 money which goes into funding capital works could be put into a local authority ‘Parks Maintenance Trust’.

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