There are lots of children’s roundabouts in our parks, but there is an invisible one which their managers have to ride – the funding roundabout. In this time of austerity the management of parks and green spaces is under threat because, surprising as it may seem, it is not a statutory duty for local authorities. This is despite all the evidence of the benefits that parks and open spaces bring to people, wildlife, and the environment.
When reduced budgets are imposed it is natural for councils to look first at cutting such discretionary activities, in order to protect those they are legally required to do. In these circumstances public opinion becomes an important factor, as it was in Birmingham during the last round of cuts. This is why Birmingham Open Spaces Forum is asking people to sign a petition to address the issue of funding for parks and open spaces. The petition ( www.Natfedparks.org.uk/parks-petition.html ) is addressed to all political parties and calls upon the next Government to:
Hold a national inquiry into the funding and management of the UK's green spaces;
Bring in a statutory duty to monitor and manage these spaces to Green Flag Award standard;
Ensure adequate public resources for all green spaces.
History shows that up to the 1960s there was a commitment to parks management, demonstrated by neat flowerbeds, park keepers and their cottages, and well maintained play areas. Then resources declined, reaching a low point by the mid 1990s, when there was virtually no staff, and contractors cut the grass but did little else. Vandalism, graffiti and broken glass were the order of the day.
Since then public authorities and others, especially the Heritage Lottery Fund, have invested heavily in parks’ regeneration. The Green Flag Awards have restored both a sense of pride and helped to set standards. Our local authorities have generally responded well, Birmingham in particular being proud of its many parks. There are 17 parks with Green Flags in Birmingham, and 18 in the Black Country.
The current concern, and the petition, stems from the Heritage Lottery Fund’s report in June this year ‘State of UK Public Parks – Renaissance to Risk’. This reflects the history outlined above – there were problems, the investment brought improvements, and now everything that has been gained is at risk again.