21.10.2016 | Campaign

Public Parks

At the end of November, the Gardens Trust launched a report Uncertain Prospects: Public parks in the age of austerity, celebrating a renaissance in public parks which has been achieved since the campaigning efforts of the GHS and Vic Soc. in the early 1990s, but warning of the desperate future many now face as a result of local authority spending cuts.

The GHS was among the first to draw attention to the problems facing historic urban parks in the early 1990s when it produced Public Prospects with the Vic Soc. in 1993.

Long-standing members of the Garden History Society will recall Public Prospects: Urban parks under threat, the report on public parks which we published jointly with the Victorian Society in 1993.  It played its part in raising awareness of the historic importance of parks and the threats they were facing.

In July, the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Select Committee announced a new inquiry into the state of public parks, with terms of reference that comprised:

  • The impact of reductions in local authority budgets on parks
  • What the administrative status of parks should be in light of declining local authority resources for non-statutory services
  • How new and existing parks can best be supported
  • What additional or alternative funding is available and what scope is there for local authorities to generate revenue from park users
  • What the advantages and disadvantages are of other management models, such as privatisation, outsourcing or mutualisation

The Gardens Trust submitted a memorandum, prepared by Dr. Katy Layton Jones, and has also been asked to appear to give evidence in person, which is a great privilege and opportunity.   We draw attention to the mountain of evidence of the social, environmental and economic benefits of well-maintained parks; the wonderful effects of the Heritage Lottery Fund and the renaissance it has overseen; and the dire effects of the cuts made in the name of austerity since 2010.  Among other points, we express our support for local authorities as the best bodies to own and manage public parks, and recommend that maintenance be put on the same footing as those duties which are statutory.  We stress the importance of non-registered locally significant parks as well as the nationally important, and we urge that the government be pressed to reinstate a champion body to succeed CABE Space, thrown on the bonfire of the quangos in 2011.  The inquiry runs until December and the Committee’s report is expected around February.

At the end of November, we launched a new report written by Katy, Uncertain Prospects, celebrating the parks renaissance which has been achieved since 1993, but warning of the desperate future many now face as a result of local authority spending cuts.  The effect of these varies widely between authorities – some are predicting an end to parks maintenance within the next couple of years, others are seeking to make parks self-financing, while others are throwing their weight behind the voluntary sector.  It is a tumultuous time and it seems right that we should issue a campaigning document in defence of these historic landscapes. The report was launched at the Gardens Trust’s first Historic Landscapes Assembly on 24th November 2016 and is available to download.  We are very grateful to all the county gardens trusts who are contributing to the report.