Parks belong to us - keep them in public hands
Britain’s public parks are over 175 years old, with the first – the Victoria ‘’People’s Park” in London – commissioned following a petition from 30,000 residents to Queen Victoria. Today there are approximately 27,000 public parks across the country, used by 37 million people every year. Public parks provide essential green open spaces to local communities, with obvious benefits to mental and physical health.
Despite this, recent cuts threaten the existence of the public park - we need to act now to stop their future privatisation.
As We Own It supporter, Bernadette Turner, says: "Parks are a public good. They provide a space to breathe, to think and to play; many were set up by philanthropists for the health and benefit of local communities, and should be kept in public ownership for all to enjoy."
What you need to know
- Heritage Lottery Fund research shows that more people are using parks and 79% of the public support investing in them.
- However, budget cuts mean parks are suffering from 'decline and neglect'. Over 95% of park managers expect their budgets to continue falling over the next three years, with 55% expecting cuts of 10-20%.
- Cuts are increasing the risk of a creep towards privatisation. In the last three years, around 10 parks have been partially (or in one case wholly) sold off. 9% of parks managers are considering selling off whole parks or parts of parks in the next three years.
- London Councils has warned of a 'slide towards privately-run parks' by 2020.
- Our polling shows 70% of us believe privatising parks is unacceptable. 75% want councils to have a legal duty to protect public parks.
Why could parks be privatised?
Cuts to council budgets
Cuts to local council budgets in London have prompted authorities to issue a clear warning: if the government cuts continue, the capital’s boroughs won’t be able to ‘prevent a slide towards privately run parks’ by 2020. For example, they will no longer be able to support park volunteers and community groups. Since 2010, council budgets have been cut by 47% - and many councils are choosing to spend their budgets on other services. Despite the obvious contribution of public parks to local communities, including both mental and physical health benefits, councils are not under statutory obligation to maintain their upkeep. As a result of this, almost £60 million has been axed from park budgets since 2010 – forcing cuts in staff, early closures and equipment falling into disrepair. In 2014/2015 alone, London boroughs’ spending on open spaces fell by 10%. Across London, the local government is citing fears that parks may be approaching a tipping point.
Cllr Julian Bell, Chair of London Councils’ Transport and Environment Committee:
“London’s parks are at a crossroads and we cannot continue as we have in the past – the money simply isn’t there… communities risk losing control of parks, along with democratic accountability for the open spaces that they value so much. The strain is showing on the resources available for parks, leisure and sports facilities… There is doubt about whether or not councils will be able to support these groups as boroughs divert what money they have to meet statutory responsibilities such as adult social care."
Local authorities are under a huge amount of pressure. Burnley is committed to keeping its parks public - but like many councils, cuts mean that it must increasingly rely on volunteers to help manage its parks.
Simon Goff, the head of green spaces in Burnley:
“We are having to make huge savings. We have lost 50 per cent of our staff – down from about 90 to 45. But the area of parks remains the same and the public expectation as to the quality of the parks remains the same. So do we just spread the butter very thinly or do we try and find a different way of managing some areas?”
Some councils are looking at privatisation as an option. A report by the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2016 suggests 9% of parks managers are considering selling off whole parks or parts of parks in the next three years.
What are the effects of privatisation?
Some councils have already begun selling off bits of their parks for development, to the detriment of local communities. This is threatening the loss of public control over parks, the loss of accountability and the loss of free services.
Battersea Park, South London
In 2015 the treetop adventure company Go Ape opened for business, offering climbing sessions for £18 - £33 per child. Locals around the area cited concerns that expensive facilities will pressure guilt-racked parents to pay up:
Battersea resident Graciela Sanchez:
"Just last week on Sunday we were walking in the park and the grandchildren were saying, ‘Oh, we want to come here.’ Then we realised that it’s private. My son can’t pay, none of us can pay that. Battersea Park is a back garden for thousands of people. What happens to those parents who don’t have £100 or £50 in their pocket?”
In July this year, protests were sparked in the area as the park hosted a two-day Formula E race. Problems with noise, disruption and damage eventually led to the organisers agreeing to withdraw.
Susan Lofthouse, secretary of Battersea Park Action Group:
“There was banging and clashing from around 7.30 in the morning, often until about 10 at night. If you lived opposite the park, you couldn’t open your windows... It was awful, and it smelt, because the HGVs run on diesel. It wasn’t what you would expect in a beautiful Victorian park.”
Ryelands Park, Lancaster
For many years, the city council has held fairs and circuses at Ryelands Park. Last year, however, increasingly super-sized and extended events were reported, causing damage to the park and disruption to locals. Campaigners presented a 700 signature petition to their local council, arguing that they had breached a licence agreement signed in 2005 which was retrospectively changed earlier this year.
Sefton Park Meadows, Liverpool
In 2015 the city’s mayor announced plans to sell Sefton Park Meadows, an 11-acre green space, to a house-builder.
Stephen McNally, chair of Save Our Green Spaces Liverpool:
“It’s only a small piece of grassland on the edge of the park, but it’s aesthetic to the area. Yet the mayor has indicated a company can come in and build 30 houses on it. There’s no need for them – it changes the whole dynamic of the area. The local people are up against it.”
What is the future for public parks?
Increasingly ruthless attempts by local councils to turn public green spaces into money-making projects prompted MPs on the Commons communities and local government committee to launch an inquiry in July. The committee has asked for contributions by the end of September on who is using Britain’s 27,000 public parks – wanting to know how often parks are used and how they contribute to the wellbeing of local communities. They will also look at the impact of council budget cuts on parks and how they can be managed.
What can you do?
- Join your local Friends of Parks group to fight for adequate funding, improvements and proper protections.
- Write to your local MP to call for the statutory protection of parks.
Photo used under Creative Commons licensing, thanks to Ricksby.
Yes! I want public services for people not profit.
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