Parks and green spaces in UK towns and cities are in danger of falling further into neglect, a group of experts has warned.
The coalition, which includes the community charity Groundwork, park managers and academics, says although there is scope for local authorities to run parks in partnership with charities, residents’ groups and private enterprise – the reality is that many have to rely on council funding.
Anna Barker, from the University of Leeds’ Future Prospects of Urban Parks project, said there needs to be an ‘urgent look at how parks can be put on a sustainable footing’.
‘This is not something government can fix on its own – but there needs to be leadership from Whitehall,’ added Dr Barker.
‘One way of doing that is to establish a national agency which would work with park managers and the public to ensure the parks legacy is sustained for future generations.’
The coalition’s call for action comes in the wake of a report by the London Assembly’s environment committee, which warns that the capital’s parks face an uncertain future due to limited public sector funds and are not currently being used to their full potential.
The report called on London mayor Sadiq Khan to appoint green infrastructure commissioner or champion to help improve access to green spaces.
‘Parks and green spaces are much valued community resources but they are under considerable financial pressure,’ added Dr Barker.
‘Since the Victorian era, parks have provided beneficial spaces set apart from the surrounding, rapidly developing city.
‘Interestingly, people still hold quite positive expectations for the future of parks that they are going to be there long term and free to access.’
The University of Leeds is organising a national conference in Westminster later this week (July 13) around the future of the UK’s parks.
The event is being held in collaboration with the Parks Alliance, Historic England and the University of Leeds’ Social Sciences Institute.
The aim is to bring together policymakers, professionals operating in the parks and grounds maintenance sectors and researchers, to discuss ways forward.
Matthew Bradbury, from the Parks Alliance, said: ‘This conference is welcome and timely given the impending government response to the select committee inquiry into public parks and the obvious need to put parks firmly back at the top of the public agenda.
‘The increasing body of research from academic institutions, including the University of Leeds, clearly identifies the many benefits that parks and green space provide to society and the environment. It is time for us all to come together to understand how future investment will benefit us all.’