UK Public Parks Summit – Protecting investment, promoting innovation

The UK’s first Public Parks Summit was held at the most fitting Royal Geographical Society which overlooks London’s magnificent Hyde Park, which could almost make you forget that we are in what feels to be a Narnian winter of austerity. While the agenda was perhaps a little too ambitious, there were a few key take home messages.

HLF investment – Dame Jenny Abramsky, Chair HLF, and Peter Ainsworth, Chair BLF, announced £100 million for the next three years to build on the £640 million of investment since 1996. Peter described the key components of a successful bid as; evidence, involve local people, show the need and demonstrate the benefits. You can find out more about the Parks for People fund here.

Green FlagThe Rt Hon Don Foster MP announced that Keep Britain Tidy had won a further five year contract to manage the scheme.

Green Space Income Toolkit – Matthew Bradbury, Director of Operations at the Land Trust, announced an online toolkit for funding due to be launched early in the New Year.

The day had an excellent range of speakers with a theme of sharing good practice and promoting the benefits of parks:

  • An indicator for the health of local government (poor park = poor council)
  • Free, fully inclusive places helping to bring communities together
  • Support numerous agendas e.g. children and young people
  • A stage for sport, activity and culture – a memory theatre
  • A place for reflection – “whispers of better things come to us gently” poetically described by Octavia Hill, the Founder of the National Trust in 1883.
  • Havens for biodiversity

While these soft benefits are well recognised, Peter Harnik, Director for US City Parks Excellence, brought to life how his parks impact studies attached a cash value to issues such as the environmental impact, health benefits and tourism. In Devour, this figure amassed to £568 million per year.

There were three key messages that were most relevant to cCLOA members with a remit for parks, nothing groundbreaking, but they were interesting framed by the range of speakers:

Know your facts – Peter Harnik’s view on usage data was that “if you don’t count, you don’t count.

Work with volunteers and community groups – this goes far beyond just letting volunteers work

Seek out local champions – ranging from engaged volunteers, senior politicians to partners.

In summary, this conference reinforced the view that a vibrant, well programmed park provides immense community benefits and a neglected park quickly becomes void of community spirit and an arena for crime. The budgetary tipping point between asset and liability is relatively small; the community cost of neglecting these assets is vast. Following the questionable decision to abolish CabeSpace it does pose the question as to whether parks are an area where cCLOA could do more?  Do let me know your thoughts.

Ian Brooke, Head of Service Leisure & Parks, Oxford City Council & cCLOA Executive Member