The Parks Action Group

Logo: Rugby Borough Council

Parks are an essential part of the fabric of all our communities. Whether for health and wellbeing, exercise, relaxation, places to volunteer and socialise, for children to play, encountering nature, adapting to climate change or just providing a place to gather your thoughts. Let alone all the environmental and biodiversity benefits.

Parks are a great place to exercise (Rugby Borough Council)
Parks are a great place to exercise (Rugby Borough Council)

With national research showing that parks and green spaces are the most used local public facilities with over 37 million visits annually, and a growing problem of obesity and inactivity in young people, they have never been more important to the future of our nation.

However, over many years, local authorities have reduced budgets through successive financial challenges. Some parks budgets have now been cut by 100% with other authorities now proposing to sell off parks.

Where once our Victorian ancestors led the world in public parks for public benefit we now enviously look on as other countries invest and maintain parks to a much higher degree as they place parks at the centre of the long-term health, wellbeing and community cohesion strategies.  

The need for quality parks and green spaces has never been greater; and neither has the communities’ expectations and desire to see their local green space maintained and improved. So what is the future for our nation’s parks?

I can only hazard a guess what sort of  bin used to be here (Chris Worman)
I can only hazard a guess what sort of bin used to be here (Chris Worman)

The Communities and Local Government select committee report on public parks in 2017 declared that our nation’s parks are at a tipping point, and since this report things have started to worsen further.  

The Government responded to the CLG report by establishing the Parks Action Group in late 2017 to consider a sustainable future for the nation’s parks and green spaces. The Government recognise both the need for this and the many and varied benefits parks bring to our communities. Rishi Sunak MP was appointed as Parks Minister in January 2018 and is committed to reporting back to Parliament on the progress of the Group later in the year.

The group is made up of some of the most passionate advocates for the parks and green spaces sector and aims to communicate with other representatives from across the industry to listen to both their concerns and to learn from any novel and innovative ideas that may be useful to share with others.

After establishing the terms of reference for the group a number of work streams have now been established to look at all the priority issues, these are:

  • Explore the funding landscape and propose solutions
  • To set parks and green spaces standards
  • Share a national vision for parks and green spaces
  • Empower local communities
  • Increase knowledge and build skills
  • Increase usage by all

To address any previous silo thinking, and acknowledging the cross cutting benefit of parks, the group consists of external partners, and representatives from across government departments including The Department of Health and Social Care, Home Office, Department for Work and Pensions, Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, Department for Education, Department for Culture Media and Sport and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Quality parks bring communities together  (Rugby Borough Council)
Quality parks bring communities together (Rugby Borough Council)

The challenge is to identify a sustainable future that can halt the decline and reconnect parks with people and places so everyone understands the positive role quality green spaces can play in all our communities.  

Some might say this will not be easy.   However, there are now over 6000 friends groups across the country that help champion our green spaces who have made a real difference in galvanising public opinion.   The CLG Inquiry gained a huge public response, and a petition to halt the decline in HLF funding for parks has topped over 200K signatories. This large scale public support for quality parks and green spaces has started to reach politicians. The Mayor of New York famously once said “where there is a park there is a vote!” Who would not want our residents to live in safe inclusive, accessible communities that provide local opportunities to live healthy lifestyles in a quality environment?

Graffiti covered furniture  (Chris Worman)
Graffiti covered furniture (Chris Worman)

There are also clear links to the Governments 25 Year Environment Plan and the commitment to leave our environment (parks and green spaces) in a better condition.   A lot of the outcomes can be delivered on our nations green spaces and is an area to be explored further.

The Government also owns The Green Flag Award scheme, which is the international quality standard for parks and green spaces and delivered via Keep Britain Tidy. This promotes quality management and maintenance of all green spaces and is a way of acknowledging and supporting all those involved in green spaces.

There is no doubt that there is a lot of work to do within a very short timescale to avert a major crisis. The challenge for the Parks Action Group is to reassure all those involved in the green space sector that we are taking this matter seriously and will make suggestions to government on how we can safeguard and enhance our parks and green spaces in the future.

Chris Worman MBE Parks Practitioner member of the Parks Action Group.

Chris has over 34 years’ experience in the parks industry and is currently Rugby Borough Council’s Parks and Grounds Manager. He has been a vice chair of the West Midlands Parks forum for 5 years. He has also been a Green Flag Award judge from the start of the awards and over the past 22 years of volunteering has had the opportunity to judge many 100s of parks both around the UK and beyond. He has undertaken a number of international judging tours including Spain and the Middle East. For his service to the Green Flag Awards and public parks he was awarded an MBE in the Queens 90th Birthday honours in 2016.

First published in CJS Focus on Greenspace in association with Fields in Trust on 21 May 2018

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