In September 2017, the Government agreed to provide a written update to Parliament to assess the progress made against the recommendations of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee’s report into the future of public parks. Today I am updating the House on a suite of initiatives to secure this future.
These have been formulated in conjunction with the parks action group (PAG) who advise on the steps the Government could take to ensure the future of our parks and green spaces. The PAG, which is comprised of a cross-government group of senior officials and a sectorial group, along with its co-ordinator have been key in driving forward the recommendations of the Select Committee. We published details of the PAG’s membership and aims on 19 September 2017: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-pledges-500000-for-new-action-group-to-grow-future-of-public-parks
In its first recommendation, the Committee advised that the Government should develop models to support local authorities in the assessment of the value of their parks. In 2018 the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, provided funding for the outdoor recreation valuation tool https://www.leep.exeter.ac.uk/orval/ which enables the recreational value of publicly accessible parks, paths and beaches in England and Wales to be estimated and factored into decision-making. Additionally, in July 2018 the Office for National Statistics, working in partnership with DEFRA, published a national set of UK urban natural capital accounts as part of a work programme to develop natural capital accounts for the UK.
The Committee’s second recommendation covers the relationship between local communities, local authorities and the free use of parks. The Government ran a public consultation on the free use of parks, “Running Free: Preserving the Free Use of Public Parks Consultation”, between April and July 2017. We published our response in December 2018 and it can be found here: https://assets. publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/764830/Parkrun_Consulation_Response.pdf. Whilst we recognise the right of local authorities to quite legitimately charge for specific events in parks as a means of income, our position is that public parks should remain free for members of the public for reasonable everyday use.
The Committee, in its third and fourth recommendations, rightly asked the Government to support the development and working of friends' groups. My Department recently provided Locality and the National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces with £130,000 to develop a national infrastructure for “Friends of Parks” groups and create a network of green champions. Working with local authorities, friends groups and other voluntary organisations, these green champions will be invaluable in supporting community groups who wish to take greater responsibility in the management of their local parks. This funding will also expand the existing Government-sponsored “My Community” website to provide a hub for community groups interested in supporting their local parks.
In line with our response to the Committee’s fifth recommendation, my Department has addressed health and safety in parks by promoting best practice and quality standards. The green flag award scheme, run under licence from my Department and operated by Keep Britain Tidy, continues to highlight community and local authority-run parks that have achieved a national quality standard for parks and green spaces. This scheme ensures that all participating parks meet high quality standards and that these parks act as ambassadors for best practice. 1,577 sites achieved the award in 2018 and I hope to see further parks added this year. Green flag award parks can be found here: http://www.greenflagaward.org.uk/award-winners/
In its sixth recommendation, the Committee rightly asked the Government to investigate the action that could be taken to increase provision of parks and green spaces. The House will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government recently announced significant funding to support parks across the country. He committed £9.7 million to local authorities to support them in the maintenance of their parks. He also provided £3.75 million in funding to 200 community-led organisations as part of our successful and very popular pocket parks plus programme. Working with their local authorities, these community groups will expand access to green space for our communities.
The Committee’s seventh recommendation asked local authorities to adopt a whole-place approach, and co-operate with other local authorities, when updating their local plans. The Government are confident that the national planning policy framework equips local authorities with the decision-making powers to secure the protection of parks—for both new and established communities. Additionally, we have recently provided £1.2 million to the future parks accelerator programme which is an initiative, developed by the National Trust and Heritage Lottery Fund, to support local authorities and, importantly, area-based partnerships to pilot and test new and innovative models of managing and funding parks estates.
In response to recommendation eight, my Department has invested £30,000 in a joint project with DEFRA and Natural England to develop a framework of green infrastructure standards. Local authorities will be supported to assess their green infrastructure provision against this new framework. This project will also examine how our commitments on green infrastructure can be incorporated into national planning guidance and policy.
In its ninth recommendation, the Committee asked further questions of the Government’s 25 year environment plan. This plan, published in January 2018, recognises the importance of parks and green infrastructure for people’s health and wellbeing. It includes the commitment to green our towns and cities and details a series of actions relating to green infrastructure and trees. One of these actions is to develop a national view of what “good” green infrastructure looks like. DEFRA and MHCLG have helped to establish the cross-government project led by natural England mentioned above that will review and update existing standards for green infrastructure. The project is working with a range of expert stakeholders, including the PAG, to develop an initial framework for testing and piloting in summer 2019.
The Committee’s tenth to thirteenth recommendations asked the Government to support the development of new and innovative models of parks estate management and funding. My Department has invested £20,000 in the Landscape Institute to support them in the development of apprenticeship standards for the roles of “landscape technician” and “chartered landscape professional”. We will continue to work with the PAG to ensure the findings from the Association for Public Service Excellence’s forthcoming research report into the skills of existing parks managers are reflected in these standards. As outlined above, we have also supported the future parks accelerator programme to provide examples of new and innovative models of parks estate management and funding. Additionally, we have provided £210,000 to help capture and share the lessons learnt from Newcastle City Council’s transformative parks management project, and to help them make available governance and legal templates to others wishing to adopt this innovative model.
We can all agree that parks and green spaces are vital to the communities we serve. They provide space for respite from our busy lives, opportunities to spend time with our friends and families, and they are oases in our busy urban areas. I am confident that the initiatives I have outlined above demonstrate that the Government is making significant progress on delivering on our shared commitment to secure the long-term sustainability of parks for our future generations.