EDITOR'S BLOG: What's new on the parks front?

Plenty of developments in this vital sector
EDITOR'S BLOG: What's new on the parks front?

I read with interest that an Empowering Parks conference was held on the 26 September at the studio in Birmingham. Delivered by the Landscape Institute, in association with the Parks Action Group, West Midlands Parks Forum and The Parks Alliance, the event was a day of learning and development for people who manage natural spaces of all scales – from urban parks and green spaces to national parks and designated landscapes.

The free conference explored the future of our parks, public open spaces and landscapes and the challenges they face in the coming years. The Conference was chaired by Chris Worman MBE parks manager at Rugby Borough Council and long standing Green Flag Award judge who introduced an array of guest speakers during the day.

The aim of the conference was to enlighten people to the fact that parks strengthen our communities and make our local areas more attractive places to live and work. They provide millions of us with a gateway to the great outdoors and the opportunity improve our wellbeing.

Caroline Macdonald, MHCLG spoke about what should central government’s role be in prioritising communities and their green spaces? And the recent progress being made by the Parks Action Group.

Sue Morgan, Design Council & Park Alliance spoke about, putting parks first and putting together a ‘Business Case for Parks’ that addresses all of the benefits that parks provide to society and the environment.

Dr Anna Barker, University of Leeds & Dr Nicola Dempsey, University of Sheffield talked about Parks of today: Taking on the challenge with deep funding cuts to local government over the past decade and no statutory protection, park managers are struggling to maintain and improve public parks. Nicola presented her findings on a 3-year Sheffield IWUN project to examine the implications of health findings for policymakers and practitioners. Anna spoke about making a case for sustaining and revitalising park management to meet contemporary challenges, whilst supporting the need for keeping them within the local government framework and funding.

Neil McCarthy, World Urban Parks. Live via satellite Neil spoke about The Future of Parks: Creating the world we dream of Parks are now considered an essential social and environmental infrastructure for cities, evident with the development of urban forestry, nature-centric urban design and national park cities. As such, this is an exciting time to be working on parks at a global scale. This keynote will explore challenges, such as urbanisation and climate change, and the leadership responses required.

APSE’s Paul O’Brien examined the findings of the workstreams established by MHCLG in response to the 2017 Inquiry into Public Parks.

As an ex parks manager and current Green flag judge, I personally know only too well, the true value of these wonderful assets and what they offer in terms of helping society cope with the stresses of modern day living.

For too many years, now local authority parks departments up and down the country have suffered from the constant year on year reduction in budgets / funding for the provision of outdoor open space and parks management / maintenance.

It is time for this to stop, we have proved over many years the many benefits parks and open spaces bring to the table, especially in recent years with so much talk about the health of the nation particularly with reference to the obesity problems we could be facing in the coming years.

The Obesity Health Alliance is a coalition of over 40 leading charities, medical royal colleges and campaign groups working together to share their expertise and support the Government in tackling the complex issue of overweight and obesity in the UK.

But spiralling rates of obesity is far bigger than just a health issue. The evidence is clear that obesity racks up a staggering bill - at least £5.1 billion to the NHS and tens of billions to UK society every year. It is estimated that it could cost in the region of £87 billion pounds to deal with the obesity crisis.

I personally believe our very own turfgrass / horticultural industry can help solve this major obesity problem in the coming years by the mere fact we get government to invest in our parks and public open spaces, school grounds and playing fields to encourage people to become more active and take part in activities that help them stay healthy.

The key to this is to invest in the maintenance and provision of these wonderful assets while at the same time promoting the wealth of job / career opportunities that come with managing and promoting these facilities.

It said that the estimated cost for maintaining our public parks in England is at present around £630million. For me that is not a lot of money compared to the commercial value of these assets. To put that into another context, £630 million would only pay for 1 mile of the New HS2 railway network. Ideally, we should be spending double that on our parks and public open spaces, to ensure they are viable and remain an integral part of our landscape heritage.

Referring to the obesity problem, I firmly believe prevention is better than cure, therefore we should encourage government to invest a fraction of the obesity forecast (£87billion) into the maintenance of parks and open spaces.

With a general election just around the corner I have heard some rumours that both the major parties, Conservative and Labour, have mentioned some polices of investing some money back into local government public open spaces. To what degree and scale is not clear?

Having spoken to Chris Worman MBE, he himself said the conference went well with a good range of speakers proving some interesting food for thought. He went onto say that with a general election on the horizon we should be sending a clear message to all political parties.

“Support, fund and protect parks and we can start to address some of the major challenges that face our nation,” said Chris. “Who would not want our communities to live safe, inclusive and healthy lifestyles whilst increasing biodiversity and helping to combat climate change?”

The Parks Alliance (TPA) the voice of UK parks, representing the people and organisations that create, maintain, invest in and use the public green spaces that we are proud to have at the heart of British life.

The TPA is a not for profit company working to promote and protect public parks. The UK-wide alliance includes over 400 organisations and senior park industry figures from local government parks services, private contractors, industry bodies, NGOs and volunteer and park friends groups.

Another Parks Alliance initiative has seen them set up #makeparkscount giving parks users the opportunity to say what benefits a park and public open space brings for them. So, they can put a ‘business case’ for parks to reinforce the message to government that parks count! They help us all stay healthy, protect our neighbourhoods from pollution and provide great places for local people to get together and enjoy themselves.

Who can submit a #makeparkscount story?

You might be a member of the public, part of a friends’ group or a local councillor. Whatever your involvement in parks, they welcome your informed contribution. Be part of a unified voice representing the people and organisations that create, maintain, invest in and use the public green spaces that we are proud to have at the heart of British life.

The contribution of parks and green spaces to the local economy and local economic growth is well known and researched so it is vitally important that strong arguments are made to direct some of these funds towards improving and maintaining local town parks.

I also read recently that the West Midlands Parks Forum is widening its net and is now providing a platform for parks officers from both the West Midlands and the East Midlands, effectively joining forces in an effort to develop wider opportunities for skills sharing and personal development.

Members of both organisations recognise that as resources are becoming scarcer for parks professionals, that economies of scale should be considered to improve opportunities for the current networks to survive and grow. The Interim Board has been successful in securing funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to develop this proposal and have employed a part time partnership manager to deliver the concept.

They are currently recruiting new members from the East and the West Midlands, so if you would like a membership application form or further information, please contact  or phone: Alison Bate, partnership manager, on 01562 887884.

The West Midlands Parks Forum was originally established in 1986 by the former West Midlands Chief Leisure Officers Association as a response to Compulsory Competitive Tendering.

The Forum has a membership of around 40 local authorities & green space professionals within the region which is defined as Herefordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, West Midlands, Warwickshire and Worcestershire. They also welcome participation from those outside of their region.

As for other parks news, Green Flag will be holding a number of debriefing sessions for their judges in November with the aim to reflect on the success of this year’s awards that saw 1970 parks and green spaces receive the prestigious Green Flag Award.

The international Award, now in its third decade, is a sign to the public that the space boasts the highest possible environmental standards, is beautifully maintained and has good visitor facilities.

Parks and green spaces receiving the Award this year include first time winner Venetian Waterways managed by Great Yarmouth Borough Council and Worden Park managed by South Ribble Borough Council that has won the Award every year since the scheme made its first Awards in 1997.

Green Flag Award scheme manager Paul Todd said, “It’s fantastic that we have more Green Flag Awards in the UK than ever before, joined this year by 126 international winners.

“Each flag honours the thousands of staff and volunteers who work tirelessly to maintain the high standards demanded by the Green Flag Award. We congratulate each and every winner on their fantastic achievement.”

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