Future of our parks remains uncertain

Jenny Rose Barber, 36 and Kate Rose, 68
Jenny Rose Barber, 36 and Kate Rose, 68
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A Public Parks Inquiry into our green-spaces could reveal the future for Sheffield's parks.

A Public Parks Inquiry into our green-spaces could reveal the future for Sheffield's parks. The inquiry by the Communities and Local Government Committee opened in July and will close for written submissions at the end of this month.

Peter Stannard, 23

Peter Stannard, 23

The national inquiry will be studying alternative management and funding models, such as a mutual or a trust for the estimated 27,000 public parks in Britain.

Sheffield City Council has been working with the National Trust, who were awarded £100,000 to develop an endowment model for Sheffield, using Millhouses Park as a pilot project.

Councillor Mary Lea, cabinet member for culture sport and leisure at Sheffield City Council said:

“Continued cuts in Government funding have placed increased financial pressure on our services. This includes our parks, which we know are incredibly important to Sheffield residents, and of course, we want to protect them from any further cuts. We have been working with the National Trust and the innovation charity Nesta to explore new ways of working however we are not proposing any changes to the way our parks are managed or funded.”

Fahag Alshamri, 33

Fahag Alshamri, 33

The council said the parks service has faced a £4m cut to their budget over the last four years across Sheffield's 70-plus parks.

Local authorities have no statutory duty to fund and maintain public parks, so organizations like Heeley Development Trust have pioneered community owned spaces in Sheffield such as Heeley Peoples Park.

Trust Manager, Andy Jackson, said: "I really care about the future of Sheffield's Parks and I'm not worried about them being sold-off to private developers. I believe the City Council are committed to the future of our green-spaces. The idea that the National Trust will come in and own the parks is a red herring, I think. The idea was that the City Council would work together with them to come up with an alternative model of management."

He added: "If we want these parks to keep going we all must take some responsibility to look after them, just the basics, not littering, things like this, they all add up."

Hamda Yussuf, 20

Hamda Yussuf, 20

A heritage lottery fund report titled 'State of UK Public Parks' published this year stated:

"Without urgent action the continuing downward trend in the condition of many of our most treasured parks and green spaces is set to continue. Whilst new ways of working and generating income are showing potential, more support, shared learning and collaboration is needed to support those that manage public parks."

The report also found that eighty six percent of parks managers, nationwide, have seen cuts to their budgets since 2010 while an estimated 2.6 billion visits are made to public parks each year.

Mr Jackson said: "It's about more than money, these spaces contribute to our lives in ways that are hard to put a value on. Obviously, they can add to property prices, but if you focus on that you're missing the point. Without our green and open spaces, Sheffield would not be the unique place it is."

Andra Maciuca, 20

Andra Maciuca, 20

The National Trust have been working alongside a range of partners, including Sheffield City Council The joint project looked at how a local authority could establish a new, independent city-wide charity that could help fund conservation work.

Assistant Director for External Affairs for the National Trust, Matt Doran said:

“Many councils are having to reduce their budgets, and are struggling to continue to fund their parks and green-spaces in the way they have in the past. Established by Big Lottery Fund, Heritage Lottery Fund and innovation charity Nesta, the £1m Rethinking Parks Programme aimed to test new ways that parks could be funded.

“Whilst Sheffield City Council do not feel that the approach developed is right for them, we are working closely with other local authorities to take forward the lessons from the project."

Mr Doran said that the 'major' lesson learned from the project is that a city-wide parks trust is a viable model. Although it would take time and money to set up, as an independent charity, a parks trust would be able to access funding not available to councils.

He added: “The National Trust is not planning to acquire or manage Sheffield’s parks.”

The Star went out and asked people their thoughts on the issue:

Kate Rose, 68, Cyclist, Nether Edge

"I went to Endcliffe Park and Chelsea Park and they look well maintained to me. But the council should absolutely be responsible for the maintenance of the parks. Public services are the best way to go. Private ownership is inefficient and a waste of money, we were shown that again and again. Sheffield council is definitely the one that should take care of the parks. "

Jenny Rose Barber, 36, Social Worker, Leeds

"Surely the parks should be the council's responsibility!”

Peter Stannard, 23, Student, Broomhall

"They are very well maintained. I went to Weston Park and it looked very clean and nice. It would obviously be good if our council was the one responsible for our parks but they already look pretty good now. It's obviously an important part of Sheffield.

But it would be good for everybody if the council was the one in charge for our parks.

If the trust takes over, how would that change anything really?"

Fahag Alshamri, 33, Student, City Centre

"The council should take care of our parks as they are the most trustworthy and will truly care for our safety but they already look clean and well maintained."

Hamda Yussuf, 20, Student at Hallam University, Ecclesall

"I think it's both the council's and citizen's responsibility to keep the parks clean and well maintained. And they look very clean now. As long as it's suitable for the tourists."

Andra Maciuca, 20, Journalism Student at University of Sheffield, City Centre

"I find the parks in Sheffield very clean and it's pretty clear that the authorities are making a lot of effort in that sense.

I think it's always good to have as many people as possible looking after the park because if they work as a team the final result will probably be a lot better."