Column: Don’t take parks for granted

Sheffield South East MP Clive Betts
Sheffield South East MP Clive Betts
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We take our public parks for granted. We shouldn’t.

There are about 27,000 public parks in Britain, but councils have no legal duty to fund and maintain them.

The Heritage Lottery Fund has just published its second report on the State of the UK Public Parks. It concludes that, while parks are highly valued by the public and usage is increasing, park maintenance budgets and staffing levels are being cut and, that without urgent action, there will be a continuing downward trend in the condition of many of our most treasured green spaces.

Public parks have their genesis in Victorian Britain.

The first was created in Derby in 1840 and it wasn’t long before similar parks were springing up in towns and cities throughout the UK. Sometimes the land was donated by successful and wealthy entrepreneurs – like Graves and Norfolk Parks. At other times, new parks were commissioned when new estates were built – like Longley Park, so much a part of my childhood – or purchased from private owners and then opened for the public – like Endcliffe, Hillsborough and Weston Parks.

One of the greenest cities in the world, Sheffield now has 80 public parks and 650 other green and open spaces. In fact, 61 per cent of Sheffield’s entire area is green space with an estimated 2 million trees, giving Sheffield the highest ratio of trees to people of any city in Europe, although you wouldn’t believe that from some recent news stories.

Because of concern about the sustainable future for parks nationally, the all-party Communities and Local Government Committee, which I chair, launched an inquiry in July. We are keen to learn about innovative and successful approaches to managing and funding parks and what can be done to support these. We want to develop a clear picture of the community benefits of public parks as well as who is using them, how often and for what?”

We’ve already received some brilliant submissions, including one by the Friends of Chapeltown Park and one from the Friends of High Hazels. I hope the Committee might visit Sheffield.

Meanwhile, there are lots of ways in which you can contribute, including an on-line survey. Local Parks, Have your say