As it is Love Parks Week, Keep Britain Tidy’s 7-day celebration of the nation’s wonderful everyday green spaces, we want to give you a glimpse into why parks are important to the National Trust and what we have been doing over the past year to help secure parks for future generations.
While the National Trust may best be known to some for our cream teas and country houses, caring about parks and urban green is in our DNA: the Trust exists due to our founders’ passionate belief that people should have access to open, green and beautiful spaces in towns and cities.
Co-founder of the National Trust, Octavia Hill, saw the role that open space could play in people’s wellbeing – “places to sit in, places to play in, places to stroll in, and places to spend a day in”. As cities grew and the open countryside was pushed beyond the means of many people’s daily access, so the protection of open spaces, of access to the outdoors and nature, and of the quality of places where people live, all became fundamental to Hill’s cause.
Green open spaces remain as critical a part of our cities as ever. In fact, a recent report by Natural England found that visits to city parks and green spaces in England were up by 25 per cent in 2016 as compared to 2010. Increasing evidence also shows that living close to nature and spending time outside is good for you – highlighting the potential value of urban green spaces to our health and wellbeing.
However, in recent years the long-standing guardians of parks, local authorities, have seen major changes in the way their funding works, putting parks at risk of loss or degradation. In its State of UK Public Parks 2016 report, the Heritage Lottery Fund found that 92 per cent of park managers across the UK have been subject to reduced budgets over the previous three years, and this trend is expected to continue in future years.
In response to this crisis in park funding, we helped call for a Parliamentary inquiry into the future of public parks. Following the inquiry, in February 2017, the Communities and Local Government Committee, a group of cross-party MPs, released a suite of recommendations, including calls for innovation in park management and greater leadership and coordination in the parks sector.
Over a year on from the parks inquiry, we’ve been supporting efforts to secure a bright future for parks. Below are just a few ways we’ve been involved.
The Parks Action Group
In the context of increasingly squeezed resources, especially for non-statutory services like parks, a collaborative approach is needed from the public, private and voluntary sectors to secure the sustainable future of the green, open spaces upon which so many of us rely.
In response to the parks inquiry, the Government set up a solutions-focused Parks Action Group tasked with bringing forward proposals to address some of the issues faced by public parks and other green spaces across England.
We are pleased to have joined the group, led by Parks Minister Rishi Sunak MP, which includes experts from the world of horticulture, leisure, heritage and tourism. It is supported by a cross-government department group, recognising that parks touch so many aspects of our lives – such as health, sport, environment, communities, housing, education, business.
The value of London’s parks
In November 2017, together with the Mayor of London and Heritage Lottery Fund, we commissioned Vivid Economics to produce a study that shows, for the first time, the economic value of health benefits that people get from London’s public parks and green spaces. Key findings include:
- for each £1 spent by local authorities and their partners on public green space, people enjoy at least £27 in value
- London’s public green spaces have a gross asset value of more than £91 billion, providing services valued at £5 billion per year
- Every year, Londoners avoid £950 million in health costs thanks to public green space
- for the average household in London, the monetary value of being in close proximity to a green space is over £900 per year
However, the report finds that those economic benefits are currently not spread equally across or within London boroughs, due to lack of equitable access to green space.
We hope the report is useful for Boroughs as they set budgets and make plans for the future of their parks services. It should also be a catalyst for the GLA and London Councils, in partnership with Boroughs, to find vital new sources of funding and investment for the capital’s green network as a whole.
Finding a sustainable future for Newcastle’s parks and supporting others
Over the past year, we’ve also been going back to our charitable roots in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and exploring sustainable models for the funding and management of urban green space.
From the Victorian splendour of Leazes Park to the tranquil beauty of Jesmond Dene, and from grassy neighbourhood parks to 50+ hectares of allotments, Newcastle City Council are guardians of a vast and highly cherished portfolio of public parks and green spaces. These critical components of green infrastructure are integral to the city’s identity and its future, but Newcastle’s parks and green spaces were at risk following funding cuts of over 90%.
Over the past year and a half, we’ve been supporting Newcastle City Council as they explored transformative solutions to the funding and management of their parks and green spaces. Following a cabinet decision in November 2017, the Council is setting up a new, independent charity – a ‘Parks Trust’ – to care for all 33 of the city’s parks and its allotments. With its sole focus on looking after Newcastle’s green spaces for and with the people of Newcastle, the new charity should help secure the city’s parks for the future. The following animation shows the potential benefits of the charitable model.
Over the coming year, we’ll be supporting and advising on the setting up of the Newcastle Parks Trust, and helping get it off to the best start possible as it launches in 2019.
We’ll also be sharing Newcastle’s story, and what they have learned from their parks transformation journey, through www.futureparks.org, as we work with national funders and partners to develop a wider and longer term framework of support for other places interested in transforming their parks for the future.
So, while the risk to parks has far from subsided, over the past year we have taken practical steps to help turn the parks crisis into an opportunity. Over the next year, we’ll continue to foster innovation to secure the everyday urban green spaces we all care about so much for future generations.
Wishing you a happy #LoveParks week!