Let the chil­dren play

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country -

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

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