Are we levelling up or down?
£9 million for parks. Is it enough? Our Chair, Rob Acton-Campbell, reflects on the recent news about parks funding and what it means for our cities.
On 1st August 2022 the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities , Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Natural England, and The Rt Hon Greg Clark MP issued a joint press release – ‘Over 100 new and revamped parks to level up towns and cities across the UK’
It states that ‘People in towns and cities across the UK will benefit from over 100 new and improved green spaces on their doorstep through £9 million in government funding’.
£2m of this is said to be for trees and £1m is going to the devolved administrations, leaving an average of £60,000 for each of the 100 parks.
This is money for new parks or facilities so £60,000 doesn’t go far. It would perhaps fund a small play area. For instance, the play area on Troopers Hill in St George, Bristol cost around £80,000 in 2016.
The £60k to 'revamp' each park would barely cover the costs of a new play area.
‘Local authorities in England are spending almost £330m less a year in real terms on parks and open spaces than they were a decade ago, with the most deprived areas experiencing the deepest cuts’
So were the Governments £9m to be used to fill this gap it would be less than 3% of what is needed each year to get us back to where we were 12 years ago.
Why has this happened? And why should the Government fill the gap, when it is Local Authorities that have reduced spending?
Local authorities in England are spending almost £330m less a year in real terms on parks and open spaces than they were a decade ago.
To answer this you have to understand that parks are not a statutory service, they are not something that Local Authorities have to provide. Local Authorities have to empty bins, they have to light the streets they have to do lots of things by law, critically they also have to provide social care for adults and children and those costs have increased dramatically over the past years. This is at a time when the Government in its austerity measures has been cutting the contributions it gives to Local Authority budgets.
Inevitably Local Authorities, such as Bristol City Council, when they set their budgets have to ensure there is sufficient funding for the things they have to do, everything else has to compete for the increasingly small pot that is left. In Bristol & Bath there is a strong political will to protect parks, but that will is being strongly tested against all the other things the Council would like to do with constantly reducing funds.
Parks are not a statutory service, they are not something that Local Authorities have to provide.
Why we're here
Your Park Bristol and Bath were set up to help raise funds for activities and new facilities in parks and green spaces. We are especially keen to see those in more deprived areas gain the benefits that being in green spaces can bring to their mental and physical health. We also want to understand and help overcome the barriers that prevent some people spending time in parks.
But we don't aim to take over the running of parks, we believe that ownership, responsibility for basic maintenance and decisions about what happens to our parks is something that should remain with the Local Authority and be subject to full democratic oversight.
For that to happen a way needs to be found for national Government to properly fund Local Authorities to continue to do the basics and keep parks safe.
A one off of £9m for 100 new parks falls way short of what is desperately needed for our parks to fulfill their full potential for communities!