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Parks are assets, not drains on the public purse

Ahead of tomorrow’s Have a Field day, Helen Griffiths, chief executive of Fields in Trust, calls for new ways to consider and measure the importance of green spaces

The recent parks inquiry from government reported on the benefit of parks to preventative public health, mental wellbeing and community cohesion. Yet many parks remain threatened as they are not a statutory service.

Funding cuts mean green spaces are less well maintained and at risk due to pressure on land for housing and retail developments. Nearly 92% of local authority parks departments have experienced budget cuts in the past three years. This is in the face of three-quarters of park managers reporting increased visitor numbers.

Fields in Trust’s submission to the parks inquiry called for a change in the way public green space is conceived, not as a drain on spending that requires a considerable amount of money to maintain, but rather as an asset which can be deployed to achieve longer-term savings and happier, healthier more connected communities.

It is vital that parks are protected with equity of provision across the UK. Emerging models of green space management increase the reliance on volunteers and community activity. In the absence of a statutory duty to maintain parks, this risks widening the gap in areas of deprivation where, arguably, parks are more needed.

The CLG Inquiry accepted the overwhelming body of evidence that parks are beneficial to communities – but recommended that more work is needed to specify the real value of their contribution to wider public agendas.

Now, after the general election, we await the confirmation of the role and duties of a new parks minister and eagerly anticipate their formal response to the report.

Fields in Trust has commissioned new research to directly address the inquiry question; we will undertake social cost benefit analyses for UK government departments, the EU and UN.

Early stage findings indicate that more trips to more parks more often is good for the health and wellbeing of UK residents. Visiting every day produces the highest wellbeing scores but the research suggests the optimum use of green space is at least once a week as this gives us 65% of the health and wellbeing benefits rated across the four Office of National Statistics indicators.

The completion of our research in the autumn will identify a robust economic and monetary value for these health benefits to make the case to local councils and governments to maintain our parks.

But health and economic value aside, deep down we all know that green spaces are incredibly valuable. That’s why communities are coming together on 8th July at Have a Field Day events to celebrate our parks.

Fields in Trust have organised a national showcase of the many ways parks are enjoyed by local communities. Birkenhead Park, the world’s first publicly-funded civic park, is launching a new family programme; in Wales thousands will attend a community carnival in Pontypool Park.

Community tennis is being celebrated in Bounds Green, north London, where there is also an Australian Rules football tournament. And a series of neighbourhood picnics have been organised by members of the 38 Degrees campaign group who are also completing a petition asking councils to protect these much-loved community spaces.

Fields in Trust was founded on 8th July in 1925 with a clear aim: to ensure that everyone – young or old, able or disabled and wherever they live – should have access to free, local outdoor space for sport, play and recreation. Now, more than ninety years later, the need for our work is as great as it always has been, so join us in celebrating our parks and green spaces on Have a Field Day.

  • If you #LoveyourLocalPark join the campaign to celebrate the UKs parks and green spaces – with Fields in Trust’s Have a Field Day on July 8th fieldsintrust.org/fieldday

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