Greenspace Scotland - The State of the UK’s Public Parks 2016 published by the Heritage Lottery Fund today [7 September] confirms the downward trend in the condition of parks looks set to continue and warns that many parks and greenspaces may fall back into a state of decline and neglect. Pressure on public finances is making it harder to manage, maintain and safeguard our parks and greenspaces. The report highlights a growing deficit between use of parks and the declining resources available to manage them

Ros Kerslake, Chief Executive of the Heritage Lottery Fund said:
“Our fear is that many of the UK’s parks and greenspaces face an increasingly uncertain future…The scale of the task ahead is daunting”. She continues: “We realise the great value that our parks bring to people – our research shows that investing in parks is something that 79% of the public support.”

The research report predicts that the quality and condition of many parks will continue to decline if action is not taken now to address this emerging crisis. Key findings include:

  • Fewer park managers report that their parks have been improving in the past three years
    39% of park managers and 38% of Friends Groups expect their parks to decline in condition over the next 3 years
  • An increasing proportion of park managers report their maintenance budgets are continuing to fall
    92% of park managers report cuts to their revenue budgets over the past 3 years
    95% of park managers expect their revenue budget to be cut over the next 3 years
  • The number of park staff continues to be cut
    Over three quarters of local authorities have reduced their park management teams over the past 3 years and expect this to continue over next 3 years
    81% of councils lost park management staff and 77% lost operational staff

All public services have been feeling the financial squeeze but a recent State of the Market survey by the Association of Public Service Excellence (APSE) found the 78% of local authorities agree or agree strongly that ‘the squeeze on public sector resources is affecting parks and greenspaces disproportionately to other service areas’.

Parks matter to people and communities. More than half of the UK population visits their local park at least once of month.

  • 57% of people visit their local parks at least once a month or more often (rising to 61% in urban areas)
  • Parks are very important to families, with 54% of households with children under the age of five using their local parks at least once a week
  • The condition of parks may influence level of use – with 76% of those who consider their local park to be improving using it at least once a month

Partnerships between Councils and Friends Groups are on the increase and communities are increasingly doing more for their parks. Alongside an increase in the number of Friends Groups, there has been a corresponding increase in the level of volunteering with the estimated value of Friends Group volunteering in parks rising to at least £70million per year.

But there is a general reluctance amongst communities to take on a more formal responsibility for managing sites, with less than 10% stating they would consider taking on formal and long-term responsibilities for the management and maintenance of their site through full asset transfer.

The report identifies that adequate funding remains the most critical issue and notes that there are no simple solutions. 

An overview of the survey indicates that parks and parks services in each country have been affected by the cuts in different ways. With responses from over 70% of Scottish Councils, the survey provides comprehensive intelligence on the position across Scotland.

  • Looking at the condition of parks across the four nations, Scotland reporting the largest change (compared to the 2014 report): the proportion of ‘good’ Scottish parks has fallen by 10% and a small percentage of managers (4%) are now reporting ‘poor’ parks in comparison to none in 2013
  • 50% of Scottish park managers expect their parks to decline over the next 3 years
  • 95% of Scottish Councils reported their parks budget had decreased in the last 3 years (for 59% of Councils the decrease was between 10 and 20%)

Scotland is rising to the challenge and the report highlights examples of the Living Landscape programme in Edinburgh where changing management is increasing biodiversity and creating healthier ecosystems; the Falkirk Open Space Strategy which proactively addresses the current challenges; the Park Managers Forum which brings together parks officers from across Scotland; and MyParkScotland which provides an online platform for crowdfunds, donations and endowments, as well as a parks information service.

Commenting on the report, Julie Procter, Chief Executive of greenspace scotland said:

“Our parks and greenspaces matter because they aren’t just the space where the kids kick a ball around or where your neighbour walks the dog; they are our natural health service, our children’s outdoor classrooms, our cities’ green lungs – essential to our quality of life, our sense of place and community.

Whilst many of Scotland’s parks are still in good heart, we are rapidly approaching a tipping point leading to the downward spiral of reduced maintenance, poorer quality greenspaces and lower levels of use – meaning we are at risk of losing the wonderful health, social and environmental benefits that quality greenspaces provide.

The State of UK Public Parks report indicates that so far the impact of the cuts has perhaps been less severe in Scotland than in other parts of the UK. But with one of the highest reported percentages of parks in declining condition there is no room for complacency.  Urgent action is needed now to safeguard the legacy of Scotland’s wonderful parks and greenspaces for today and for the benefit of future generations. We recognise the tipping point; now is the time for collaborative and concerted action. We call on the Scottish Government, local authorities, the voluntary sector, businesses and the public to heed this early warning and respond to the HLF’s renewed call for urgent action.”

greenspace scotland supports the HLF’s renewed call for collaborative action across five key areas: (1) continuing local authority leadership, (2) promoting active partnerships, (3) supporting communities to play a more active role, (4) developing new models of management and funding, and (5) compiling, coordinating and updating data.

Current work by greenspace scotland aims to support councils and local groups to sustain our parks and greenspaces. Pioneer programmes looking at Climate Change Parks, ParkPower and food growing are developing new approaches to management.

The Scottish Park Managers Forum brings together park officers from across Scotland to share practice and collectively find ways to respond to the challenges.  MyParkScotland provides a new way for people to discover, enjoy and support parks; it is Scotland’s only crowdfunding platform specifically for parks and greenspaces, and uses gift aid to boost the value of donations to start to build an endowment for our parks. The new Greenspace Map will be published in 2017 providing comprehensive information on the location, type and extent of all of Scotland’s greenspace.

Source: Greenspace Scotland

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