Campaigners say cuts threaten the future of country’s parks

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THE COUNTRY’S parks are “close to crisis point”, campaigners warned after a report revealed public green spaces were facing budget cuts, staff losses and even being sold off.

Research shows that 86 per cent of parks managers have seen cuts to their budgets since 2010, a trend they expect to continue over the next three years.

As a result, park facilities such as cafes and toilets could close or have reduced opening hours, grass could be left uncut and flowerbeds empty, and play areas cleaned and inspected less often, the study warned. Almost half of local authorities (46 per cent) are considering selling parks and green spaces or transferring their management to others, which could lead to the loss of part or all of some parks, the report from the Heritage Lottery Fund said.

In addition, four fifths (81 per cent) of council parks departments have lost skilled management staff since 2010 and almost as many (77 per cent) have lost front-line staff.

The report warns park managers in Yorkshire expect high levels of budget cuts and staff loss over the next three years, but also says that it did not have many responses from the region to surveys that were carried out.

Responding to the report a Government spokesman said there was no excuse for councils looking to cut their provision.

The report claims threats to parks are a serious issue for the country, as they are one of the most heavily used public services with 34 million people estimated to make regular visits to their local green spaces.

More than two-thirds of park users (68 per cent) say spending time in parks is important or essential to their quality of life, a figure that rises to 71 per cent in urban areas. They are also considered important or essential to four fifths (81 per cent) of parents with young children.

Campaigners called on the Government and local authorities to help protect and improve parks for future generations.

Mark Camley, chairman of newly-formed coalition The Parks Alliance, said: “This timely report provides the evidence to back up the experience of park staff and volunteers on the ground that the parks we know, love and use are close to crisis point. The Parks Alliance is keen to work with the Government now to halt the potentially disastrous decline in the green spaces that are at the heart of British life and culture.

“Together with the people that create, maintain and use parks, national and local government has a duty to protect and improve the country’s public green spaces for future generations.”

The report also highlights the need for developing new ways of looking after and funding parks.

The Heritage Lottery Fund said it would continue to monitor and report on the public parks across the UK it has invested in. A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “UK parks have improved since 2001 and provide vital leisure facilities for millions of people every year, and we welcome the £700 million lottery funding since 1996.

“Some councils however are seeking to cut park provision locally and there is no excuse for this. These councils should instead be protecting parks and other frontline services by cutting waste and bureaucracy, sharing back office functions with neighbouring councils and drawing sensibly on their significant cash reserves rather than building them up.”