Our local open green spaces are vital for everyone and every community, and for all age groups and interests! They are an essential and unique public service promoting relaxation, recreation and play, wildlife and biodiversity, green jobs and skills, heritage, travel routes, flood control, health and social well-being, and community cohesion. However, there is growing alarm from the public, from Friends of Parks groups, from parks managers and greenspace professionals, about the serious long-term damage being caused by devastating cuts to green space budgets for staff and maintenance, and the lack of funding and investment by local and national government. If not reversed, this neglect will cause them to go into decline and become problem spaces abandoned by park users and plagued by vandalism - or even being closed and sold off. This is what unfortunately happened after similar public service cuts in the 1970s and 1980s.
The power of 'Friends of' groups
In response to those bad old days a dynamic and inspirational movement of over 6,000 local Friends of Parks groups – the volunteers who act on behalf of the communities who use and care about our vital public green spaces - has risen up and made a real difference. The National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces exists to promote and represent their activities, issues and concerns, and to amplify their passionate and knowledgeable voices. We aim to share learning, develop good practice, and strengthen grass roots organisation, coordination and co-operation throughout the UK. We want to see an active Friends Group for every public green space, and an active and independent Forum run by such groups in every area throughout the UK.
Most importantly, we raise the issues impacting on our open spaces, including seeking the effective protection and improvement of all the UK’s 27,000 public parks and green spaces. We successfully campaigned for the recent Select Committee parliamentary Inquiry into how to end the current underfunding crisis, and played a significant role in it - leading the calls for the management of the UK's parks to be made a statutory service - as recommended by the previous Select Committee in 2003. Unfortunately this was not adopted at that time, although other recommendations resulted in a much higher profile and better funding for parks. Last autumn, to lobby the Committee, 322,000 people signed a '38 degrees' online petition to that effect. The cross-party Committee of MPs recognised the vital importance of green spaces and the crisis they are being plunged into again, and called for action at all levels. However, their recommendations didn’t go anywhere near far enough and anyway a new Government has since been formed. The crisis will continue to spiral out of control unless green spaces get the recognition and backing they deserve.
We call on all park lovers and the UK public to:
- celebrate our public green spaces and the community activities organised there;
- empower our communities to take 'ownership' of our local spaces and get involved in all decision-making;
- set up Friends Groups for every urban park and green space;
- speak out to ensure that the needs of parks are heard loud and clear;
- oppose threats of inappropriate commercialisation, development and sell-offs of facilities and green space;
- help create a massive coordinated movement to promote, defend and improve our green spaces;
- demand the Government to bring in a Statutory Duty to monitor and manage these spaces to Green Flag Award standard and ensure adequate public resources and protection for all green spaces.
Dave Morris is the Chair of the National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces.