Let the children play
NGLAND’S national parks have lost millions of pounds in Government funding, which has been cut by a quarter from 2011 to 2016, according to an investigation by the Press Association, amounting to an overall loss of £10 million.
A promise was made by Defra in 2015 to raise budgets by 1.72% a year up to 2020. However, former cuts were so drastic that, by 2020, funding will be a fifth below 2010 levels and, once you take inflation into account, the cuts over the five-year period look even more severe, at up to 40%.
This has had major ramifications: the CLA’S Charles Trotman says that ‘tourist information services in the parks have been badly affected’, with ‘generations of careful land management’ at risk. For example, since 2010, the Norfolk Broads has closed three out of six information centres and Dartmoor has had to reduce staff by 35%.
Collectively, England’s national parks attract 90 million visitors and generate £4 billion a year. Defra acknowledges that they are ‘treasured landscapes’, but can the £350 million for English national parks, AONBS and public forests be enough?
‘Without vital tourism to keep the rural economy thriving, the future of our national parks is uncertain,’ adds Dr Trotman.
EIN further depressing news for wide-open spaces, writes Peter Waine, our public parks are in crisis again, despite more than £850 million in Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grants between 1996 and 2006 and more from other sources. According to a new report, Uncertain Prospects by The Gardens Trust, a spiral of decline is gaining momentum due to austerity cuts.
Over the past 20 years, hundreds of public parks have been brought back to life; ponds choked with litter, weed-infested flowerbeds, vandalised statuary and boarded-up loos were replaced by restored bandstands, glasshouses, boating lakes, shelters, seats, ornamental planting and new playgrounds and cafes. It didn’t come cheaply: Sefton Park Palm House, Liverpool, cost more than £2.4 million to restore and a similar amount to renovate other aspects of the park; £14 million was spent on Manchester’s Stanley Park. However, since 2006, lowered local-authority budgets have seen parks take a hammering; loos and cafes are closing, flowerbeds are being grassed over and anti-social behaviour is on the rise.
Many hard-pressed local authorities are hoping volunteers can help, but they need supervising, which can no longer be afforded. Now, some 59% of authorities are looking at disposing of parks to other bodies and, most worrying of all, on present trends, the number of parks in decline will be higher in 2020 than in 2001 (according to the HLF’S State of UK Parks report 2016).
Does it matter and, if so, what can be done? Beyond their historical and intrinsic value, public parks stimulate economic activity, attract inward investment, increase property values (a mixed blessing, some might say), enhance social cohesion, add to biodiversity, capture carbon and improve urban drainage.
In 1996, parks were rescued after a generation of decline, which had reduced many to no-go areas. This time, there will be no HLF as fairy godmother. Instead, ways forward could include giving local authorities a statutory duty of care for public parks, enabling local authorities to employ taxation as a mechanism for funding parks, establishing and funding a national champion body for urban parks and strengthening protection in the planning system afforded to parks as ‘non-designated heritage assets’ or Assets of Community Value. Then the children will be able to keep playing—and so will the bands. Peter Waine is a Trustee of the Gardens Trust and former chairman of the CPRE
‘Treasured landscape’: the Yorkshire Dales is one of the national parks that may suffer due to budget cutbacks
The bandstand in Taunton’s Vivary Park is typical of many saved over the past 20 years