Skip to main content

Funding for Parks

Volume 738: debated on Tuesday 24 October 2023

I beg to move,

That this House has considered funding for parks.

It is a pleasure to be in the Chamber with you, Mr Pritchard, a fellow Shropshire person and product of the open spaces of Shropshire. I will speak generally about parks and then in more detail about the problems faced by our parks and open spaces.

Parks are a major feature of our lives, providing opportunities to recreate, play games and observe nature, and for children to grow up. They are wonderful spaces. The oldest public park in Britain is in Birkenhead. Conceived in 1843 by Joseph Paxton, it developed into a wonderful open space—it is one of the largest parks in the country—and became iconic. It inspired Central Park in New York, which then inspired Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. So from Birkenhead we get San Francisco and the whole process of developing parks and open spaces. The park was an amazing achievement, and Paxton was, of course, the one who designed the Crystal Palace, which was built in Hyde Park for the Great Exhibition.

Throughout the 19th century there was big development of parks, as benefactors provided money for them. There were redoubtable fighters for public open space in every city who were concerned about growing industrialisation and people’s loss of amenity and contact with nature. Hampstead Heath came from that process. In some cases, parks were developed from what had previously been common land. Sadly, in many other places, they were not, and we became a country of very densely populated urban areas. The demand for parks grew. In some cases they were developed. In some cases there are more parks in suburban parts of our cities than in the centre because of the way industrial development happened.

In a sense, the parks came into their own in this country during the covid pandemic. When we were locked down, people could recreate in parks. I have a bizarre memory of a man riding around Finsbury Park on a bicycle with a loudspeaker telling people to go home because it was too full. I could, of course, see his point, but I could feel the sadness of people who wanted to be outside enjoying a bit of urban space.

It is inner urban open space that I want to say the most about. My borough, Islington, is geographically quite small. It is one of the most densely populated boroughs in the country, if not the most densely populated. Until the end of the second world war in 1945, the only real open space in my constituency was Highbury Fields—there was Arsenal football ground as well, if we want to call that a public open space—in the south of the borough, on the edge of the City of London.

In 1945, something interesting happened across London and the other cities. The Abercrombie report, which was written during the war and was a planning idea for how London would develop after the war, was an incredibly far-sighted document. I might disagree with some of it—it was too keen on road building and not keen enough on other forms of transport—but it had a real vision for greening cities and enabling people to live with nature and have public open space near them.

At that time, in some parts of London there was less than 0.1 acres of open space per 1,000 people. In other words, there was no open space for many people in many parts of London. Abercrombie’s proposal, which has not totally been realised, was that London should aspire to have 4 acres of open space per 1,000 population. He realised that that would be very difficult, so he proposed a series of green routes that would link large open spaces in different parts of the city.

Most of the parks in my borough have been developed since 1945; some have been developed very recently. I have an aerial photograph in my office of a place called Wray Crescent, which, as the name indicates, is a crescent of housing; the picture shows the houses and gardens and so on. It is not there any more. The houses were all bought by the local authority and demolished, and a park was created in that space. There is a school next to my office that once had houses in what is now the school’s garden. Those houses were bought by the Inner London Education Authority and demolished to make a garden for the school. That is an incredibly brave thing for any public authority to do. Now, we would not even think about buying houses in order to create a park or open space because of the costs involved. We have to remember that some of this work was done by very far-sighted people.

We have nearly always achieved parks through a combination of wealthy benefactors—in some cases big charities, or even big landowners—and campaigns by ordinary people who just want something decent and to create more open space. One of my favourite parks in my constituency is Gillespie Park. I even led an Adjournment debate on it in the 1980s—[Laughter.] I have been here a long time, you see. At the time, Gillespie Park was a disused railway sidings. British Rail wanted to sell it, and there was a huge debate and campaign locally. Eventually, it won recognition as an open space, partly because British Rail made the fundamental public relations error of allowing people to use it on a temporary basis. Once people have been allowed to use a public open space temporarily, they are not going to give it up—and they did not give up Gillespie Park.

I was at the park on Sunday. It is beautiful: it is heavily wooded, with an amazing variety of bird and plant life, as well as fish life in the pond. We are very proud of it. There was an “apple day” on Sunday; hundreds of people came to enjoy different varieties of apple. I spoke to many of them, and I would guess that more than half of them have no open space of their own. They have no gardens or balconies—no open space whatsoever. The park is their lung. We have to remember that parks are there for everybody. We in this Chamber may have our own gardens at home, which we probably enjoy and love, but the vast majority of my constituents do not. Their only open space is the street or the park. They have no open space of their own. We should think very hard about that.

I was encouraged to seek this debate by the issues surrounding Finsbury Park, which is in the Tottenham constituency, just outside mine; I let the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) know that I would be raising it. Finsbury Park, which was established 150 years ago by the Metropolitan Board of Works, was designed to be very much bigger, but the board gave up on its expansion and sold some of the land for housing. It is still a substantial park, and a vital open space. After its development by the Metropolitan Board of Works, the park was taken over by the London County Council, and then by the Greater London Council, which actually ran it very well. The history of the park shows all kinds of things, from balloons taking off to anti-aircraft guns during the second world war and peace demonstrations in 1914. It has been a place for people all that time.

Like every other council, Haringey has funding problems, and it frequently lets out large parts of the park for concerts and entertainment and so on. The most recent figure I could find on the council’s income from concerts was £1.2 million for one year, which is a great deal of money. That involves a very substantial part of the park being taken over for several weeks on end, which causes a great deal of resentment. I am a patron of the Friends of Finsbury Park. Some time ago, a legal action was taken against Haringey Council to require it to spend the benefits of the concerts on the park, rather than on the generality of council expenditure. Although that action was successful, the park is still denied to a lot of people for quite a long time.

Managing the use of parks is always complicated and difficult; there are many demands, and it means trying to work out everybody’s life in a park. There are those who want to play football, cricket or baseball; those who want to just sit around doing nothing and playing music; those who want to play informal games; those who want to have birthday parties, and all the other things. There are also those who are keen on protecting trees and improving the biodiversity and natural life of parks. Managing parks is not simple. If we throw into the mix underfunding of the park, and pressure on the relevant local authority to raise more and more money from it in order to maintain it, we end up in a self-defeating circle where we lose the use of the park in order to make money to keep the park, which we cannot use. We have lost the use of it because of the many concerts that go on.

I am not against having concerts, festivals and parties in parks—absolutely not. I just think there has to be a balance and a limit on the numbers of them. They are not cheap and therefore not necessarily completely available to everybody. For example, the lowest priced Live Nation tickets last year in Finsbury Park were £190, way beyond the likely spending power of young people in the immediate area.

The problem affects my favourite local park, which I often use. It is a wonderful place and I am worried for its future, as I am worried for every other park’s future, unless we have some degree of guaranteed funding and protection of them. I can see the Minister becoming anxious, because I told him that I would say nothing he could possibly disagree with. I look forward to an intervention from him agreeing with my view.

The right hon. Gentleman is giving a great speech and articulating the value of parks to our many local communities, including those across north London. Many parks are under unprecedented threat, whether from financial interests or from development—not least Stanley Park in my constituency, which was voted England’s best park last year. A local authority-led plan to develop part of the park has caused enormous disquiet in my constituency. Will the right hon. Gentleman join me in urging local authorities to be mindful of the health and wellbeing benefits of parks and to be conscious about protecting their status?

I thank the hon. Member for his intervention. Stanley park is a wonderful park and a great place. Many other parks around the country are iconic and beautiful and all are at risk because of the danger of local authorities agreeing to a planning rule change that would allow parts of parks to be sold off.

It all seems very attractive at the time. Somebody in the council says, “Okay, we will sell off this bit of the park and get x million for this piece of land, and that will enable us to plug a spending gap somewhere else.” It is always a very attractive option. The problem is we will never, ever get the park back. Once it is gone, it is gone. It will not return. That is why I look forward to the Minister’s response and to the response to the Select Committee report.

We need to look again at the strength of legislation protecting public open spaces from development and from sale by local authorities so that that option is simply not available to local authorities. I am not saying that most local authorities want to sell parks—they do not—but we have to make sure parks are protected for all time. Fields in Trust has produced some interesting information. Between 2010 and 2021, there was a loss of £690 million in park funding across the whole country. Some 32% of parks have recorded a loss of frontline staff and 41% a loss of management; 23% have cut their development plans for any park; and 62% of local authorities—this is the saddest figure of all—expect to see the quality and appearance of their parks decline in the coming years.

The Government have said that they want money to be put aside for the development of new parks, and they have done that through the levelling-up fund. The number of new parks proposed is not very many—I think it was 100. Unless I have misunderstood the information that I have read in the various reports, only £9 million has been set aside for them. Well, we cannot develop even one park with £9 million, so I think that needs to be looked at carefully. If we want new parks, they have to be funded from somewhere, which I will come on to in a moment.

The Communities and Local Government Committee inquiry in 2016-17 was an important one, and it was revisited by the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee and by the Government in 2022. Clearly, a lot had changed in those five years. Covid had come, which enhanced the importance of parks but also led to a new round of funding problems for local authorities—£330 million less than in 2010 is now being spent on parks. The cuts in park expenditure have gone on and on. It is not clear what level of urban uplift is going to go on parks.

In a reply to a request from the Chair of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), the Minister said that he thought local authorities were best placed to decide how money is spent. Yes, that is absolutely true, but unless there is overall protection for the level of expenditure on parks they will obviously be a place where cuts are made. If a councillor is faced with a massive bill on social care, or other aspects of key services, people will say that the parks do not matter, so they can be cut a bit more. What people forget in that short-sighted view of things is that we can help to alleviate the mental health crisis with the provision of open spaces.

I welcome this point being made, because parks have a clear benefit for our communities. They are an important cultural asset, but also improve people’s health and have an important role to play in maintaining our natural environment. Public Health England recognises the value of parks for people’s physical and mental health. It is understood that people who are living in areas with higher amounts of green space have a reduced likelihood of cardiovascular disease, for example. We must protect the funding of parks and ensure that these important cultural assets are maintained.

The hon. Member is quite correct. There are numbers of people who are going through a mental health crisis who feel that it is alleviated to some extent by going to a park. I have met people with mental health conditions who are going through group therapy who meet and walk around a park together; they feel that that is a way of coming together in a calm atmosphere. We should never underestimate the value of parks to all of us, in every way. They are a place for nature, recreation, sport, and a place to give us a sense of calm in our lives.

There is an inequality of park provision, however, around the country. We need to look at that. We need to look at protecting funding by central Government to local government so that it can be ringfenced for parks. One suggestion in the Committee report was that every local authority should be required to try and achieve the green flag standard in their parks. Many councils try and do that anyway because they want to—which is good—but they need to do it more.

The funding of parks improved a bit when the lottery was introduced, which put quite a lot of money into the improvement of some parks. Lottery funding, like charity funding and donations for parks, is welcome, as that it can be used to improve sports facilities, planting and maybe bring in allotments and growing spaces. What gifts never do, however, is take into account the longer-term requirements of funding, such as the need for staff and the need to keep the thing going. That is where central Government expenditure and their relationship with local authorities is so important.

My fundamental point is that the lesson from my lovely local park, Finsbury Park, is that, while we love that park, it needs to be properly funded so that it does not have to give up so much space every year for expensive concerts. The same thing applies elsewhere. Hyde Park is taken over by Winter Wonderland for several weeks. It is fine that people enjoy Winter Wonderland, but what about people who just want to go to Hyde park to walk about? They cannot do it because of that. The same applies in many other places, so we need balance.

I hope the Government will look again at the two Committee interventions on this issue, which were helpful and designed to improve parks and open spaces, and realise their value. I hope the Government will say that they are prepared to ensure there is guaranteed funding. When dealing with overall planning, it is important to protect our green belt but also to protect our public open spaces and parks. We should also ensure that, with every major planning operation, there is improvement in the amount of open space and the creation of allotments and community growing spaces.

Our children need to be brought up to understand that we have to live with nature, not on top of nature. That creates a better understanding and more support for progressive environmental policies in future. I put this forward today because I hope it will provide an opportunity for the Opposition and the Government to give their proposals for the funding of our beautiful parks all over the country.

I thank the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) for introducing this important debate, and for the opportunity to speak on it. As I said in my intervention, parks have a clear benefit for our communities, even in very rural areas such as Somerton and Frome, which I am proud to represent. Victoria Park, the oldest park in Frome, which opened in 1887, continues to hold many events throughout the calendar year.

It is therefore concerning to read that something approaching one in 10 of the UK’s parks are classified as in poor condition. A gradual decline in funding has seen hundreds of thousands—millions—taken away from park budgets, as local authorities have had a reduction in finances as a result of austerity measures. That decline in funding results in cuts to the hard-working, talented staff who take care of and love our public parks, and who ensure that they are an asset to our communities.

As many as 32% of our local authorities have had to cut frontline staff such as park rangers and litter-pickers, while 41% have had to cut management staff as well. The loss of staff inevitably leads to a reduction in the quality of the parks. Somerset Council, of which I was proud to be a member, and South Somerset District Council before that, have demonstrated the benefits of securing good funding for parks and rangers. I invite everybody to come to the parks in my part of my world. They have offered apprenticeship schemes to employ young people, training them in a variety of skills that are needed to maintain our public parks. That work is important on so many levels.

The Association for Public Service Excellence has tracked the age profiles of park staff over 10 years. The over-50 age range makes up 50% of the workforce, with most other age groups falling. With already stretched staffing, and as park staff reach retirement age, that could cause a significant issue in coming years. Initiatives such as those by Somerset Council demonstrate the importance of tackling this problem head on, although more funding is needed to continue programmes in Somerset and extend them around the country.

Local authorities such as Somerset Council have used the importance of parks to build up and emphasise important local cultural events, such as those mentioned by the right hon. Member for Islington North. There has been a focus on providing top-class facilities for visitors and improving people’s access to nature by putting on local events. Somerset’s parks offer a variety of events from dog shows to astronomy evenings to bring people in and experience what is on offer.

Work has also been undertaken to ensure that our parks are accessible. For example, there are mobility walking areas for people to access the spectacular nature of Somerset. That showcases how important parks are to Somerset. The county has around 95.4 square metres per person of public park and green space, well above the national average of 30 square metres. We are extremely lucky in my county. In order to protect our important green space, Somerset Council has worked with Fields in Trust to protect our parks. I welcome the clear steps taken by the council to safeguard those spaces. It is important that we do that to protect the natural biodiversity of the parks and green spaces that we love.

We live in one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. More than 40% of native species are in decline. To arrest those changes, we must protect park funding. Our parks are also valuable for the health and welfare benefits they provide to us all. Public Health England has recognised the value of parks for people’s physical and mental health and, as I have already mentioned, it is understood that people living in areas with higher amounts of green space have shown reduced mortality and a reduction in the likelihood of cardiovascular disease.

Public parks are important cultural, environmental and public health assets. We must safeguard them for future generations. We must do that by protecting their funding and allowing local authorities the opportunity to maintain their parks.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair this afternoon, Mr Pritchard. I shall begin by welcoming the Minister. This is our first outing together. Maybe we will have a few more before we go our separate ways again, but I do not think this is something we will fall out about.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) on his excellent speech about the importance of parks. He articulated very well how important they are and how, during the pandemic, we all came to a greater understanding of their importance. He set out the historical context as well, with many wealthy benefactors often the progenitors of local parks. Local communities have worked together and, indeed, local authorities have also done a great deal of work over many years to secure and preserve those open spaces that otherwise might well have been concreted over.

I thank the right hon. Member for mentioning Birkenhead Park. It is not quite in my constituency, but it is not that far away. It would be remiss of me not to mention some of the excellent parks in Ellesmere Port and Neston. We have Whitby Park, Rivacre Valley, Stanney Wood and Lees Lane, which are all important open spaces. They are often kept going by friends groups and volunteers, who do a really important job in covering the sometimes difficult job of local authorities in maintaining those spaces to the levels we would like to see. The right hon. Member for Islington North has referred to that and I will come back to it shortly.

The right hon. Member referred to the Select Committee reports, and the 2017 report in particular clearly spells out the health and economic benefits that parks and open spaces can have. The report quoted studies that found that, every year,

“green spaces in England contribute £2.2 billion to public health.”

It was also mentioned that the UK Natural Environment Assessment found that caring for ecosystems had the potential—I use the word “potential” advisedly—to add £30 billion a year to the UK’s economy. The Select Committee also noted the benefits that accrued to local areas in terms of attracting investment and securing jobs, referring particularly to Edinburgh City Council’s social return investment model as proof of the basis for economic benefits and how it was concluded from that scheme in particular that every £1 invested in parks resulted in a £12 return in benefits delivered. That is not something that any of us can ignore.

Both the right hon. Member for Islington North and the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Sarah Dyke) have spelled out clearly that there are many positive impacts in our communities from parks and green spaces. It is perhaps counterintuitive, possibly disappointing and almost certainly frustrating that our general impression is that parks have been undervalued in the past decade.

The Association for Public Service Excellence noted in its “State of UK Public Parks 2021” report that in the past decade, funding for parks from local government has collapsed. It estimated that since 2010, parks have lost £690 million-worth of funding, with parks now making up less than 3% of local authority budgets on average. With constricted budgets, staff maintaining parks have also had to be cut, which is where the important work of friends groups comes in. The APSE survey found that 32% of local authorities have had to make frontline cuts to staff during this period. Sadly, those cuts were not even distributed evenly across the UK. We know that 87% of the UK’s most deprived councils have had their spending cut since 2010, compared with only 58% of those in the most affluent areas. Given what we know about the importance of parks in driving down health inequalities, the fact that that funding cut has disproportionately affected those areas with less economic power is a cause for double concern. We all know that the austerity enforced on local authorities since 2010 has had a huge impact on their ability to deliver. We know that their spending power fell by almost 20% between 2009-10 and 2019-20. Despite a partial recovery in recent times, spending power is still more than 10% below what it was before. That has resulted in many local authorities really struggling.

We know that there are huge, increased pressures on local authorities, particularly in children’s services and social care, and more pressure is on the way. It is not surprising, with the financial pressures faced by local authorities, that there is a temptation for them to monetise some of these assets a little more. I do not criticise them for that—we know that they are in a difficult position—but we must be alive to the risks that brings: restricting access to all, reducing the quality of the environment and ultimately undermining the very essence of what parks are meant to be there for. The right hon. Member for Islington North talked about how Finsbury Park can be out of action for several weeks at a time. I agree with him that there is no problem with using parks for these events if they raise funds, but a balance must be struck between the local authority’s ability to use the park for those events and the rights of other users to enjoy the benefits of the park.

One other way that the pressure on local authorities and open spaces has manifested itself is through the introduction of estate management fees, whereby management companies simply adopt the work that the local authorities used to undertake, leaving homeowners having to pay twice for exactly the same services. I have said before that unless we get a proper grip on estate management fees, they will become a new payment protection insurance scandal. What do we say to residents who pay additional fees but then see non-residents, who have not paid the fees to clean up and maintain the park, using their facilities? How long before residents demand that open spaces are open only to those who have paid management fees? Be in no doubt: this issue will continue to corrode community cohesion unless we find a compelling answer to these questions. The Minister knows that I will come back to this repeatedly, because I do not think that we have really understood the scale of the issue just yet.

The concerns articulated by the right hon. Member for Islington North about the need to protect and preserve our parks and open spaces are very much a live issue. I look forward to hearing the Government’s response from the Minister, particularly to the Select Committee recommendations that we have heard about.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I thank the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) for calling this important debate and articulating so clearly the value of our parks estate and the challenges that it faces. I also thank the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Sarah Dyke) for her remarks. I recently visited her constituency a number of times, and I can fully attest to the beauty of Somerset and its parks. Like the Labour Front-Bench spokesperson, the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), I will shamelessly plug some of my local parks, such as Locke Park, Lily Park, the Saltburn Valley gardens and Smiths Dock Park. Like him, I commend the friends groups who care for our parks and cemeteries too, such as the Friends of Redcar Cemetery and the Friends of Eston cemetery.

The UK’s 27,000 public parks are treasured assets that have been enriching the lives of our communities for more than 150 years. They provide opportunities for leisure, relaxation, exercise and connection to nature. However, parks are also fundamental to community cohesion, physical and mental health and wellbeing, biodiversity, climate change mitigation and civic pride. As the right hon. Member for Islington North said, during covid they were also a lifeline, providing a breathing space where people could relax, exercise and enjoy the outdoors, even in the most difficult of times.

The Government are fully committed to creating better access to parks and green spaces for all our communities. Although the main responsibility for urban parks lies with local authorities, the Government have made a number of targeted investments to support the sector. In 2022, as the right hon. Member mentioned, we launched the £9 million levelling-up parks fund to improve access to green spaces in disadvantaged neighbourhoods across the UK. I am pleased to share with the House today the fact that 90% of funded local authorities reported increased access to green spaces in disadvantaged urban areas, such as those that the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome mentioned.

The levelling-up parks fund is an immediate example of the Government’s commitment to levelling up communities across the country. However, as has also been touched on, there is also lottery funding. Since 2019, the National Lottery Heritage Fund has invested over £36 million in parks and green spaces. Since that fund began in 1996, it has awarded over £950 million to create and restore more than 900 individual parks. As the right hon. Member may know, Caledonian Park in Islington received a grant of almost £2 million from the National Lottery Heritage Fund in 2016 to restore the historic clock tower and market railings.

Furthermore, in two rounds of pocket park funding in 2018 and 2019, the Government awarded grants of over £5 million to 266 community groups working in partnership with local authorities to create new community green spaces or to transform existing parks. Also, through the community ownership fund, the Government are awarding funding to a range of assets that are important to local communities. The fund has already invested over £500,000 to support five parks and green spaces. I should also mention the £2.6 billion UK shared prosperity fund, which is providing new funding for local investment. Local authorities will decide how to use that funding to best serve their communities, including by investing in improving and developing their parks.

The Government have always been clear that local authorities must have the freedom to choose how to use their budgets to best serve their local areas and priorities, which includes how they support their parks and green spaces. I am pleased to see that there are many examples across the country of local authorities developing innovative practice and partnerships to manage their parks estate. However, as the right hon. Member mentioned, it is important that those partnerships do not impinge on communities’ access to those parks. A balance has to be struck.

The right hon. Member may know that, in order to support parks, Camden Council and Islington Council have agreed a joint parks for health strategy. Health-related projects and social prescribing are being rolled out across both boroughs, and Islington Council is incorporating parks for health in its public realm by greening its highways and creating new green spaces.

Central Government continue to support local authorities in this regard. The Government have helped local authorities to develop innovative practice through the future parks accelerator programme, which we jointly funded with the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the National Trust in 2019. That programme funded eight local authority areas to pilot new ways of managing parks estates. The results are currently being evaluated and disseminated across the sector.

The green flag awards have been mentioned a few times already. The addition of the green flag awards scheme—which is owned by my Department and run by the Keep Britain Tidy charity under licence—promotes the national standard for parks and green spaces across the UK. Over 2,000 green flags were awarded this year, demonstrating that the parks that won them had met the highest-quality standard. I am also proud of the contribution of community groups and volunteers, such as the friends of parks groups, which have already been mentioned, in designing and managing local parks. Over 400 green flag awards have already been awarded to community-led parks, with many more to come, I am sure.

Getting the best for our parks is not just about spending more or dictating how local authorities should use their budgets. It is about communities, health authorities, park sector stakeholders, and local and national Government working together to get the best outcomes for our parks estates. That is why the Government have reflected on the importance of access to good-quality green space as a key factor for health in a wide range of policies, including the childhood obesity strategy, the loneliness strategy, the clean air strategy, “Sporting Future” and “The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health”. The Government have set clear expectations for how parks and green spaces should be incorporated into our communities in the national planning policy framework and the national design guide and code. We have outlined our ambition to ensure that every household is within a 15-minute walk from a quality green or blue space in our environment improvement plan, which we published in January this year.

I thank the Minister for what he is saying. Does he think that there should be guidance from central Government about the amount of time that a park can be exclusively used for private interests or private commercial interests, in order to protect the generality of public access to what is valuable open space?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that contribution. It touches on his points about what he feels are abuses happening in places such as Finsbury Park and Hyde Park. I would say that those decisions are best made locally. Obviously, there is a local democracy angle at play in local authorities, and authorities are held to account at the ballot box every couple of years. Certainly from my party’s perspective, we would always go to the ballot box ensuring that access to local parks was important.

Finally, if the House will indulge me, I want to share briefly my memories growing up as a child, visiting Albert Park in Middlesbrough. As the right hon. Gentleman said, it was a park gifted by a wealthy benefactor—our first mayor, Henry Bolckow—to the people of the town in 1865. Over 150 years later, that park is still in the centre of the town. When I was growing up, it played host to the Middlesbrough Mela—a celebration of the south Asian community in Teesside. We also have Stewart Park, where as a kid I would go and see the animals. Years later, I visited when it played host to BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend in 2019.

As we have heard, parks are about history, celebration, memories and culture. They are the centre of communities and key to healthy communities. I add my thanks to those who protect and maintain our parks, particularly those in Redcar and Cleveland but nationally too, and to the armies of volunteers who do the same. Going forward, we must ensure that our parks’ workforces are well equipped with the skills to meet the current and future expectations of our communities. Learning and best practice from current park programmes needs to be embedded to develop and protect our parks for the future. We must work together to ensure that these treasured assets are passed on to future generations in the best possible condition, so that our children and grandchildren can enjoy them just as much as we have.

I am pleased that we had this debate today; it gave us the chance to set out the issues facing us. I understand what the Minister said about the use of parks for mental health recuperation and the generality of people’s needs, and I fully support that. I hope that we will recognise that increasing pressure on local authorities to get an income from parks can be detrimental to the basic needs of parks. I look to the Government to at least set out guidelines on the amount of time that a park, or even part of it, should be taken out of public use and into exclusive private use, because I see a trend that is rather worrying—to me in my own area and, I suspect, to people all over the country.

I thank the Minister and the Opposition spokesperson, the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), for what they said, and I thank the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Sarah Dyke). We value our parks; we love our parks, and they are the only open space that so many of our people ever get access to. We should value them.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered funding for parks.

Sitting adjourned.