Yesterday we joint hosted the Future Parks Conference which brought together over 70 practitioners to discuss how to achieve a sustainable future for public parks. At the event we launched our new Future Parks toolkit, with useful considerations for those interested in setting up a People’s Park Trust, one potential option for securing parks’ futures.
It’s hard to disagree with this quote from Ruskin. After all, public parks have a very special place in the nation’s heart. They are the green lungs of our towns and cities: locally loved spaces that provide millions of people with opportunities to escape, explore, rest, relax and play.
Aside from the pleasure that parks give us, they also deliver a huge range of benefits: they keep us healthy, in body and mind; slow the flow of water in otherwise hard urban landscapes; help to clean air and regulate temperature; provide crucial homes for wildlife; and are a vital part of our nations’ culture and history.
Putting a value on parks
We recently worked with Vivid Economics to develop a set of Natural Capital Accounts (NCA), using Sheffield as a case study, in an attempt to put a value on a city’s parks. The NCA provided some striking results: they show that parks and green spaces are a great asset to the city, worth nearly £1.2bn, not a liability of £16m as they appear in conventional public accounts.
They also suggest that parks are excellent value for money: for every £1 spent on public parks in Sheffield, society receives £34 of services – 60% of which is to physical and mental health.
However, many councils are anticipating a further 20% reduction in parks budgets, with some facing very large cuts of 50-100% by 2020. This situation is unsustainable and reaching crisis point. As the recent HLF State of UK Public Parks, 2016 report showed, if parks are starved of funding they risk a terminal decline, becoming no-go places at greater risk of being sold off.
At yesterday’s Future Parks conference our Director-General, Helen Ghosh spoke to attendees from local authorities, national agencies and NGOs, saying that “public parks matter, not only as much loved spaces for millions of people to relax and play for free, but also for their critical role in the health, prosperity and resilience of towns and cities. We need to act now to secure great parks for people for the next 100 years, it will be the best investment we ever make”.
Finding new ways to manage parks sustainably
While we recognise that a one-size-fits-all solution will not be the right approach for all those caring for parks and green spaces, we have found that a city-wide Parks Trust has the potential to fulfil all the criteria that informed our investigations, such as maintaining free access to quality parks, securing dedicated and long-term funding for parks, and growing the public benefits from parks and green spaces.
We are now keen to share the wealth of insight and advice that we have gathered over the past two years of research and testing through the Future Parks online toolkit. We hope that the toolkit can act as a catalyst for those looking to make a step-change in the funding and management of parks and green spaces.
The Future Parks toolkit has been endorsed by, amongst others, Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF): “With over 20 years’ experience of investing money raised through the National Lottery, HLF realises the urgent need to identify and explore sustainable new approaches to funding and managing the UK’s public parks. We are delighted to see this toolkit being made available to all and look forward to seeing how it can be used to help protect ours, and others’, past investments in the UK’s parks and green spaces.”
Despite the scale and urgency of the challenge, the message from the conference was that bold change is possible, with inspiration and optimism from those local authorities already transforming their parks.
Yesterday’s conference provided a unique forum for open discussion on issues – and potential opportunities – for those managing parks and green spaces, and feedback from the sessions held will help us identify how we develop the toolkit and further support local authorities to make parks sustainable.
If you have any suggestions for how the toolkit could be improved, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us via firstname.lastname@example.org.