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Public parks face decline


New report from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) calls for collaborative national and local action to deliver new ways of funding and managing parks to avert a crisis.

  • Parks are more popular than ever after £850million of National Lottery investment
  • Park use is rising while resources and skills available to manage them are declining
  • Downward trend in condition of parks – predicted in HLF’s 2014 report – set to continue
  • Commercially driven approaches to income generation are increasing and new management models are showing encouraging results
  • Careful management, better national and local partnership working and investment in new skills needed to build expertise at a time when resources are limited

Today, HLF has published State of UK Public Parks 2016, its second report to comprehensively review the condition and management of the UK’s public parks.

An investment of over £850m of National Lottery money has played a vital role in ensuring more than 800 of the UK’s public parks are in better condition, with improved facilities and renovated historic features. However, with park managers reporting an expectation of further budget cuts, the benefits of this investment could be lost as the risk of decline and potential facility closures continues to grow.

The report also outlines the continuing need to develop innovative mixed model approaches to funding parks, such as local authority commitment, commercial opportunities and fundraising, to avoid the risk of rapid decline.

Ros Kerslake, HLF Chief Executive, said:  “Put simply, parks are not a luxury. They are essential to our increasingly busy urban lives and thanks to National Lottery players they’ve never been in such great shape. But these are financially tough times and if we are to successfully halt the onset of decline in our parks and avoid wasting this investment, we need to come together now to find innovative and sustainable models of funding and maintaining these highly valued community spaces.”

Key findings from the research

Parks are valued by the communities that use them…

  • £50m – estimated to be raised by park friends groups each year (up £20m from 2014)
  • 57% – of adults use their parks at least once a month (up 3% from 2014)
  • 5,900 – estimated number of park friends and user groups across UK (up 1,100 from 2014)
  • 90% – of households with children under five visit their local park at least once a month (up 7% from 2014)
  • 70m – estimated value of volunteering hours given by park friends and user groups each year (up £30m from 2014)

 … but their future may not be so bright

  • 92% – of park managers report cuts to their revenue budget over the past three years (up 6% from 2014)
  • 95% – of park managers expect their revenue budget to be cut over the next three years (up 8% from 2014)
  • 27% – of park managers report their parks to have been improving over the past three years (down 14% from 2014)
  • 53% – of park managers report their parks to be in a good condition (down 7% from 2014)

Park management will be more varied in the future

  • 50% – of park managers report having sold parks and green spaces or transferred their management to others over the past three years. This is expected to increase to 59% of local authorities over the next three years
  • 50% of local authorities have transferred outdoor sports facilities to community groups over the last three years
  • having exhausted most opportunities to make savings and efficiencies, councils are increasingly turning to raising income in other ways
  • 5% – of funding for parks comes from external sources and this is expected to increase to almost a third, 29%, in the next three years
  • 59% – of the public supported more commercial use of parks (such as through ticketed events and fairs)

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, Chair of ukactive, said: “Our parks are an integral part of our lives, places where we relax, play, and exercise. They are fundamentally important to our long-term physical and mental wellbeing, and support cohesion within communities. As Chair of ukactive I know the importance of parks to keeping our communities physically active, and see programmes such as ParkLives and Green Gym driving park use and supporting investment. Such assets need to be protected and prioritised, not threatened with decay and closure. This important report will stimulate an essential debate on the future of parks, including the key partnerships – both public and private – required for the future.”

What needs to happen now?

HLF and Big Lottery Fund will continue to fund capital improvements to historic parks and support innovation, particularly around new models of finance and management.

Continued local authority leadership is needed. As owners of most public parks and green spaces, local authorities have a pivotal role in ensuring the continued provision of quality parks – the research shows this really makes a difference.

Active partnerships need to be promoted. With the increasing diversity of organisations responsible for managing parks, greater collaboration and coordination is needed between local partners to share funding and expertise to maximise the efficient use of limited resources.

Communities need to be supported to play a more active role. Communities already play an important part in supporting their local parks and green spaces and this is expected to increase. For those groups that are keen to do more, additional support and assistance should be given to make the most of their contribution and ensure this collaboration is of mutual benefit.

New models of management and funding need to be developed. Innovation, adaptation and change are an integral part of successful organisations, including park services. The current climate provides the opportunity to experiment, test and refine new contemporary and possibly more cost-effective models of management and funding.

Data needs to be compiled, coordinated and updated. Robust data is at the heart of all good planning and decision making. While there have been some improvements in the collection of information, including the development of the long-awaited national green space map, many local authorities still have a limited understating of the detailed workings of their parks service.


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