A few thoughts from me (that are mine, not necessarily the views of the PMA or others), but the last couple of weeks have seen considerable publicity around the crumbling state of playgrounds across England, as highlighted by Play England and great work by Eugene Minogue. The article is here. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/aug/04/england-playgrounds-crumble-council-budgets-fall . It gained considerable traction and was picked up by the BBC too. https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/66404181 . I responded on twitter and LinkedIn with some thoughts that were picked up on. I was angry when I read the response from government on this:-.
A government spokesperson said:
“The £9 million UK-wide Levelling Up Parks Fund will provide grants to deliver over 100 green spaces in communities with the lowest access and a new £30 million fund will pay to overhaul 30 local parks in England with a focus on improving facilities for young families.
“We are working hard to tackle childhood obesity through regulating the promotion of less healthy foods to children and investing £100m of funding so children have access to support through Local Authority services.
Grrrr…. and double triple quadruple Grrr. My response was
Put this into context DLUHC –
– there are 27,000 parks in the country
– let’s say every park has a play area – add in all the play spaces and play areas NOT in parks – say a ratio of every one park there are 3 play areas – I’m basing this on my many local authorities I have worked for – how many thousands of play areas are we talking about ? That’s over 100,000 play areas and this is the governments response “The £9 million UK-wide Levelling Up Parks Fund will provide grants to deliver over 100 green spaces in communities with the lowest access and a new £30 million fund will pay to overhaul 30 local parks in England with a focus on improving facilities for young families.”
The average play area in a neighbourhood park to design and deliver from scratch – £200,000. A set of swings alone is over £10,000.
So governments response is frankly stunning in its lack of understanding of the reality. Play for children should be a given, quality parks and green spaces should be a given… when oh when oh when will government realise this and start doing something about it rather than pathetic responses like they give … parks and play and green spaces are vote winners. So fund them.
I have worked in local government for 35 years with a wide range of local authorities – Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem and one with an alliance as well as 2 councils with elected mayors. I have been fortunate in working for one exceptional authority who simply ‘got it’ when it came to parks, open spaces, play areas and they invested heavily in them, and saw the value to their local communities. We invested heavily, we matched this with Green Flag Award credibility. It was hard work and we worked WITH politicians to ensure this was successful. 3 Green Flag Parks to 17 in a number of years and every single play area invested in across the borough. Outstanding. So why is it then that the majority of politicians don’t get this. Parks and play spaces, green spaces, green infrastructure, and all that go with it are vote winners. A politician likes nothing more than smiling and unveiling a new play area in front of a bunch of excited kids and the lens of a local newspaper. Its an absolute given.
- The quality of politicians in all the years I have worked has become worse. In many cases it becomes about them rather than the community they work for.
- Many have no understanding of the wider role parks and open spaces play – they are less informed
- Party politics – the politic-ing we see now as officers where politicians just want to score points against each other
- Blame culture – we live in a society where it is always someone else’s responsibility
- Conflicting priorities – a pot hole or a play area? There is nothing worse than seeing a glum politician pointing at a pot hole in the road as part of their campaign to get voted in
- The inability to work WITH officers rather than against them – so much more can be achieved. I have been on the end of a scrutiny panel evening bashing that was a low point in my career to date. Work with not against.
I have attended an APPG with MPs and been part of lobbying campaigns to persuade politicians the value of parks and green spaces. It is something we as parks managers have to adapt to. The politics matter as do the politicians and we have to continue to persuade, influence, cajole, encourage, educate them and get them to work with us. At the same time we have to remember they are politicians and that the politics matters very much to them. As for the response by DLUHC – whoever released that needs to reconsider what the impact of that message was. It was frankly embarrassing.
Head of Parks for 35 years and has worked for Carlisle, Middlesbrough, Watford, Southend-on-Sea and Norwich.