Communities and Local Government Committee Public parks inquiry report summary

Introduction

The Communities and Local Government Committee last year launched an inquiry into public parks. The inquiry asked three key questions: why parks matter, what challenges are facing the parks sector and how to secure a sustainable future for parks.

The Sport and Recreation Alliance submitted a written response to the Committee’s inquiry on behalf of our members and the wider sport sector highlighting the value of parks as spaces for physical activity which can bring health, social and economic benefits. Emma Boggis, CEO, was invited to attend an oral evidence session and again made the case for parks as places to get people active.

The Committee have just published their report from the inquiry. The report notes that the level of response showed the strength of feeling people have for local parks and green spaces, and demonstrated how much parks are valued by individuals, families and communities. It also sets out a series of recommendations on the future of public parks.

Recommendations

1.     During an oral evidence session, Communities and Local Government (CLG) Minister, Andrew Percy MP (Con, Brigg and Goole) made a commitment to establishing a cross-departmental group once the report was published. The report welcomes the Minister’s commitment, and calls for the Minister to set out how the details of this group will operate and how it will work with stakeholders from across the parks sector to deliver a ‘sustainable future for our parks and green spaces.’

The CLG Minister should publish, in his response to the report, details of the cross-departmental group’s membership, terms of reference, initial priorities, how often it will meet and how it will work collaboratively with the parks sector and Local Government Association (LGA).

Priorities for the group should include establishing and maintaining an online parks information hub to share information with other local authorities and to provide signposting to other sources of information or advice.

The CLG Minister’s group should work with the LGA to support and encourage local authorities to use transferrable models which local authorities in England can use to assess the value of their parks.

2.     The Committee considered the planning and management of parks. The report notes that ‘it may be appropriate for local authorities to charge for some users of a park, especially when parks are used by commercial ventures as part of their business models.’

It also suggests local authorities should consult on, and publish, policies which set out

the criteria upon which: 

I)                 Any application for exclusive use of a park or part of a park will be determined;

II)               Any decisions about whether park users will be charged for the use of the park, park facilities, or clean-up costs will be based.

The report says that in some circumstances, it may be appropriate for local authorities to seek non-financial contributions for some park users for the upkeep and maintenance of parks and green spaces. Park run is used as an example of a community activity which does not charge members for participation or raise revenue, but could be ‘encouraged to contribute volunteer time for park maintenance or fund-raising activities.’

Local authorities should work collaboratively with relevant groups of park users to identify the range of ways in which they can contribute to their parks.

3.     The report considers the importance of parks and green spaces to national strategic issues. It recognises the importance of parks and green spaces in tackling issues such as obesity, flooding and climate change. It raises concern about the unequal distribution of parks and green spaces in England, and the impact on the ability of all communities to benefit from the advantages of access to quality green space.

The CLG Minister and cross-departmental group should identify what action can be taken to improve the provision of green spaces – for example, by accessing funds available under public health strategies such as the Obesity Strategy.

The CLG Minister should monitor the provision and distribution of green space across England, and should identify local authorities where provision is inadequate, and work with them to improve access.

4.     Chair of the Committee, Clive Betts MP said ‘every local authority should have a strategic plan, recognising that parks are much more than just grass and tulips. Parks make a vital contribution to physical and mental health and bring significant community benefits.’

Local authorities should take a whole-place approach when updating their Local Plans which recognises the importance of parks and green spaces both to existing and new communities. The wider value and benefits which parks deliver, beyond their amenity and leisure value, should be considered when planning the sustainable future for England’s parks.

5.     The CLG Minister should work with colleagues in Defra to ensure that parks, and green infrastructure more widely, are properly recognised in the Government’s forthcoming 25-year Environment Plan.

6.     The Committee is not persuaded that a statutory duty on local authorities to provide and maintain parks, “which could be burdensome and complex”, would achieve the intended outcomes.

7.     The Committee acknowledged the argument that a statutory duty on local authorities and Health and Wellbeing Boards to prepare and publish parks and green space strategies could encourage greater working with local authorities.

The CLG Minister should issue clear guidance to local authorities that they should work collaboratively with Health and Wellbeing Boards, and other relevant bodies, to prepare and publish joint parks and green space strategies.

The CLG Minister should consider legislating to place a statutory duty on local authorities to collaborate with Health and Wellbeing Boards to prepare and publish joint parks and green spaces strategies. 

Possible implications for the sport and recreation sector

The Government does not have to act on the Committee’s report but if changes were made the Alliance and our members might want to consider issues such as:

·        Opportunities to engage with the CLG Minister’s cross-departmental group to ensure that the value of physical activity in parks and green spaces is recognised and parks remain a free, accessible space for people of all ages to be active.

·        How would the CLG Minister monitor the provision of green spaces?

·        Seek more clarity on what users would be charged for to use the park and how would charges be set and implemented?

·        Volunteers already play an important role in creating safe, engaging spaces for people to enjoy and benefit from. Volunteers also deliver many activities within parks. What impact would local authorities asking more of park users, e.g. contributing to maintenance and fundraising, have?

·        How can members engage with local authorities and Health and Wellbeing Boards around local planning and strategy development?

·        How would funding be obtained from different streams, such as the Obesity Strategy, and would it be ring-fenced?

Next steps

Government has 60 days to respond to the report so we will keep an eye out for that. The CLG Committee intends to return to the issue of parks before the end of this Parliament to assess the progress which has been made.