8th August 2016 – Keeping parks and green spaces looking their best is a top priority for East Staffordshire and South Derbyshire council chiefs as a warning has been issued that budget cuts will see many fall into decline nationally.
The State of UK Public Parks 2016 study found that park use is rising across the country, with 57 per cent of adults now visiting their park once a month or more, while 90 per cent of families with children under five head to their local green space at least monthly.
Now the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) study warns a decline in the condition of parks predicted in a first report in 2014 is set to continue, with almost all park managers experiencing ongoing cuts as austerity squeezes local authority budgets.
However, council bosses covering East Staffordshire and South Derbyshire have vowed to do everything possible with a reduced budget to keep their award-winning parks up to scratch.
Councillor Colin Whittaker, East Staffordshire Borough Council’s deputy leader for cultural services, said: “East Staffordshire Borough Council has put the provision of parks and open spaces as one of the key elements, supporting our healthy cities action plan. It works hard to develop and maintain all of its open spaces.
“Every effort is made to maintain high standards on our parks and play areas. A good example of this is the recently opened Regents Park Play Area, in Branston, as well as the In Bloom awards which is recognition of all that hard work involved in the parks and open spaces.
“Parks provide local people with the opportunity to relax and unwind, providing a place for improving physical and mental well being. Given the local and national health problems around mental health and obesity the provision of a range of open spaces remains a council priority.
A spokesman for South Derbyshire District Council added they are doing what they can to make the budget stretch further.
He said: “In common with councils rights across the country we are facing challenging economic times, but our focus is on doing more with less. We are very proud of our parks – we see them as natural assets and important community facilities, places where people can come together and enjoy a whole range of leisure and recreational activities.
“Swadlincote’s Eureka Park and Church Gresley’s Maurice Lea Memorial Park have just been given Green Flag Awards for the second year running, putting them among the country’s finest, while Eureka is three years into a five-year refurbishment and restoration project designed to boost its appearance and appeal.
“We also have a designated parklife officer whose role is to work very closely with our partners to maximise resources and improve provision. We are committed to putting our parks at the centre of our vision of making South Derbyshire a better place to live, work and visit.”
The Heritage Lottery Fund study, which included 193 councils, found that 92 per cent of park managers had seen budgets cut and 95 per cent were facing more reductions, a worsening of the situation since 2014. Just under a fifth of local authorities (18 per cent) believed the condition of their public parks had declined in the past three years but 39 per cent were expecting them to decline in the coming three years, it found.
Tightening budgets are expected to lead to declines in quality of green spaces, morale, support for park friends and user groups, recruiting volunteers and staffing events. Three-quarters of local authorities have cut staff, with the loss of skills such as horticulture, landscape design and wildlife management.
In the introduction to the report, Ros Kerslake, chief executive of HLF, said the downward trend predicted in 2014 ‘looks set to continue and there is a danger that many parks and green spaces may fall back to a state of decline and neglect’. Half of local authorities have sold parks and green spaces or transferred ownership or management to community groups or trusts.
Having exhausted opportunities to make savings and efficiencies, councils are having to raise income in other ways, such as through charges on local development, More than £850 million of National Lottery money has been invested in hundreds of parks across the country.
WHAT IS GREEN FLAG STATUS?
The Green Flag Award scheme was first launched in 1996 to recognise and reward the best green spaces and parks in the country and is the benchmark national standard in the UK.
The first awards were handed out in 1997 and now it continues to provide the high level of quality against which parks and green spaces are measured. It is also seen as a way of encouraging others to achieve high environmental standards, setting a benchmark of excellence in recreational green areas.
The award is one of a number of accreditation schemes that recognises excellence in the management of the public space. Keep Britain Tidy also manages the Blue Flag Award for well managed and clean beaches and the Association of Town Centre Managers operates the Purple Flag Award – the indicator of where to go for a good night out.The three flags are a sign that the area is managed to high standards, which have been independently verified.
"Every effort is made to maintain high standards on our parks and play areas. A good example of this is the recently opened Regents Park Play Area, in Branston, as well as the In Bloom awards which is recognition of all that hard work involved in the parks and open spaces.
Parks provide local people with the opportunity to relax and unwind, providing a place for improving physical and mental well being. Given the local and national health problems around mental health and obesity the provision of a range of open spaces remains a council priority."