Parks groups and conservationists have called for the city council to abandon planned 20 per cent cuts to Birmingham’s green spaces, saying it will cost more in the long run.
A total of 30 groups and individuals representing the city’s environmental, conservation and leisure sectors have signed a letter to the council - printed in the latest edition of the Birmingham Post - warning the proposed £1.8 million cut to park maintenance next year will damage communities, threaten investment and impact on the health and quality of life.
Birmingham City Council plans to reduce maintenance of roads and pathways, cut the number of park keepers and staff, reduce the frequency of grass cutting, cut flower bed and shrub planting and withdraw funding for planters and hanging baskets in high streets.
Many of the concerned organisations, such as the Birmingham Open Spaces Forum, represent the hundreds of volunteers who give their time to care for city parks and green spaces.
The council's proposed budget outlines a £1.8 million cut in parks and green space maintenance in 2017/18, rising to £2.4 million a year from 2018/19.
But the groups, including the city's Wildlife Trust, Civic Society, Trees for Life and various parks groups, warned the cut was a false economy.
They said: "We are concerned that the proposed 20 per cent cut to the parks and nature conservation budget for Birmingham City Council will damage our communities, increase the need for future spending on health and reduce investment in our city in addition to the inevitable decline in the quality of our green spaces for people and reduced habitat for wildlife."
They pointed out that land values are higher nearer parks and that they encourage healthy physical activity, community activities, and help with flood defences and air quality.
"It is fundamental to the sustainable economic growth of Birmingham that these green spaces are managed," they said.
"This costs money. The city benefits from many thousands of hours of volunteer time every year to improve parks and green spaces."
They also argued the volunteers still needed the backing of paid expert staff, equipment and infrastructure.
While there has been a major decrease in funding available to the council, the groups said parks needed to be a priority - particularly as a magnet for investment and development.
And they warned: "Not investing will mean our green spaces deteriorate, becoming overgrown with unseen areas that attract crime and anti-social behaviour...
"We urge the council to rethink the immediate budget cuts to parks and green spaces."
The call follows revelations that the city's culture sector will be hit with a £1.7 million in grant funding without alternative plans to keep the orchestras, theatres and galleries going.
The city council is currently consulting over its 2017/18 budget - including £76 million cuts or savings across a range of services and departments. Final proposals will be drawn up in February and put to the council for approval in March.
The Open Letter and list of groups in full
We are concerned that the proposed 20 percent cut to the Parks and Nature Conservation budget for Birmingham City Council will damage our communities, increase the need for future spending on health and reduce investment in our city in addition to the inevitable decline in the quality of our green spaces for people and reduced habitat for wildlife.
The natural world is more fundamental to our health, wealth and happiness than the economy. It is the world that sustains us, and upon which all economic activity depends. At present, this contribution is neither recognised nor valued by our economic structures leading to short sighted, comparmentalised thinking.
The natural environment drives investment. The value of any property you can think of will increase when close to a park, lake or natural landscape.
The parks and green infrastructure of our city provide spaces for physical activity, communities to come together, children to play, carbon sequestration, flood alleviation and a contribution to improved air quality. Healthy, happy and engaged communities rely on a healthy environment. As Dr William Bird, CEO and founder of Intelligent Health, has stated: “simply looking at a tree is good for us”.
It is fundamental to the sustainable economic growth of Birmingham that these green spaces are managed. This costs money. The city benefits from many thousands of hours of volunteer time every year to improve parks and green spaces. T
he Nature Improvement Area attracted hundreds of thousands of pounds to improve green spaces. Friends groups play a vital role in maintaining these spaces adding significant value to the parks budget but there must be an infrastructure including front line staff to support them. Volunteers and charities cannot be expected to carry the cost of managing the beautiful parks and green spaces we are so fortunate to have in Birmingham.
We recognise there has been a significant decrease in funding to the city and that difficult decisions have been made resulting in cuts across all non-statutory services. The vision and strategy accompanying the budget recognises the need to make the most of the city’s assets, but misses the crucial point that parks and green spaces are a major asset that require investment to realise the true benefits.
The Vision 2020 states ‘growth comes from investment’. Investing in green space accessible to everyone must be a priority that will make this city more attractive to investment, to people and business.
The opposite is also true. Not investing will mean our green spaces deteriorate becoming overgrown with unseen areas that attract crime and anti-social behaviour. Front line staff (rangers and park keepers) are essential to the management of these spaces.
Birmingham’s parks and green spaces today are a source of our civic pride; they are the lungs of our city, a shared identity and the centre of many communities. We urge the council to rethink the immediate budget cuts to parks and green spaces.
Long term a more fundamental shift is required to secure these vital spaces. We need a different model. We all benefit from these green spaces: individuals, businesses, public health, Local Enterprise Partnerships and the West Midlands Combined Authority.
Looking to the future investment must come from all sectors, not reside with the city council Parks and Nature Conservation budget: everyone who lives here, works here, cares about or runs a business here benefits from a healthy natural environment and must be prepared to support and invest in our green spaces.
Georgia Stokes, The Wildlife Trust for Birmingham and the Black Country, the Birmingham & Black Country Local Nature Partnership and The Birmingham & Black Country Nature Improvement Area
Dr Ewan Hamnett, Champion for Physical Activity for the City of Birmingham and UK Active
Michael Addison, Northfield Ecocentre
Sarah Royal, Birmingham Open Spaces Forum
Heidi Seary, National Federation of City Farms and Gardens
Caroline Hutton, Martineau Gardens
Gavin Orton, Birmingham Civic Society
Councillor Ian Cruise, Longbridge Ward
Ceris William-Turner, Forest Schools Birmingham CIC
Nick Wale, Outdoor Learning UK
Afric Crossan, Kingstanding Regeneration Trust
Geoff Cole, Birmingham Trees for Life
Emma Marsh, RSPB Midlands
Andrew Nabb, Friends of Kings Norton Local Nature Reserve
Anna Bright, Sustainability West Midlands
Professor Ian Trueman, Birmingham and Black Country Botanical Society
Phil Beardmore, Cycle South Brum
Nick Packham, Buglife
Libby Harris, Birmingham Friends of the Earth
Penny Moore, Northfield Constituency Environmental Forum
Maggie and Clive Sweet, The Fields Millennium Green Trust
Chris Crean, West Midlands Friends of the Earth Regional Campaigner
Mike Brooke, the Lickey Hills Society
Jill Harvey, the Lickey Hills Joint Consultative Committee
Stephen Trefor-Jones, The Friends of Balaam's Wood Local Nature Reserve
John Newbury, Friends of Bournville Park
Graham Andrews, Friends of Leyhill Park
Alan Bale, Sustainable Life
Stephanie Adelaar, Kingstanding Food Community Project and The Big Seed Give Away
Rob Tilling, The Orchard Project