The future of England’s parks and green spaces needs to be a key issue in the general election, according to a report from the Fabian Society. Highlighting the vital role that they play in bringing people together, it calls for a new focus from national and local government in protecting parks and open space.
‘Places to be: Green spaces for active citizenship‘ by Ed Wallis shows that, in the last parliament, English local authority spending on open spaces fell by 14 per cent – around £15.5m. And Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) analysis of the last Autumn Statement projects further real terms cuts of around 44% to unprotected government departments, including local government. With councils fast running out of money for non-statutory services, spending on open space is set to be stretched even further.
Cuts on this scale will need all levels of government to take a new role. The report recommends that Natural England should be reformed to lead the co-ordination of green infrastructure across government and to ensure that its wide social, economic and environmental benefits are recognised by all departments.
In order to mitigate against this decline, ‘Places To Be’ calls for local authorities to establish Green Partnership Boards to bring together representatives of businesses, voluntary groups, and activists in a co-ordinated approach to managing the local environment. Recognising the economic and health benefits of green spaces, it calls for Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and Health and Wellbeing Boards to take more of a role in parks and green spaces.
And the report calls for new approaches to engage citizens in community life by building on early efforts in community organising. It also calls for communities to learn from the example of parish councils and asset trusts established to rebuild community spirit and ensure the continued viability of green space.