On 24th October, an unusual event occurred – a debate was held in Westminster on Public Parks, brought by none other than the Rt Hon. Jeremy Corbyn MP for Islington North. Like the recent DEFRA inquiry on Green Spaces, this came out of the blue. The debate is available here to read. It is worth a read – its also quite long and we have to admit Mr Corbyn has looked into this and is well read up along with other MPs who were debating this issue.
Attending and responding was the Rt Hon Jacob Young MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary from DLUHC, and MP for Redcar and Cleveland. Our chair was asked to respond to this by Horticulture Week yesterday (26th October) and his response is below:-
“We have to applaud Members for bringing this as a debate as the importance of parks has been long voiced in Government, both locally and centrally. We all know what the benefits are, and Mr Corbyn has eloquently voiced his concerns. Any debate on these issues at this level is welcome. However, there has to be an acknowledgement from all sides of the political spectrum that parks are and remain hugely underfunded. We all know the value of them, to health, leisure, recreation, but one area not covered is the value to nature and part of our attempts at reversing climate change. 27,000 parks is a huge green estate that has significant potential in ensuring we are part of that battle to combat climate change. However, we keep coming back to the old chestnut on funding. The figures quoted by the honourable members are stark, and it is up to this and the next government to acknowledge the dire need of local government finances – and what is occurring in places like Birmingham, Croydon, Woking and will gather momentum as more and more councils issue S114 notices, and these councils include Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem controlling parties. The Hn Member for Redcar cites Albert Park in Middlesbrough, a park I was personally responsible for as Head of Parks Development for Middlesbrough Council and oversaw its remarkable transformation due to a National Lottery Grant nearly 20 years ago. It funded a new parks centre and most importantly, staff to manage that park including a dedicated park manager and park ranger service, with the centre open daily. This has all gone – the whole team has gone, the team I managed to redevelop parks across the town, including Stewart Park – have all gone. They have gone because the council can no longer fund them and the lottery money ran out. Middlesbrough are doing excellent work with the resources they have and are hanging on to their Green Flags, but how long will this last.
As chair of the Parks Management Association and a local authority parks manager of over 35 years, I have seen this boom bust boom bust cycle so many times and we have to find a way of funding our parks long term for our current and future generations – sustainably. Any funding is always welcome but funding has to be realistic, meaningful and can make a difference. Unfortunately, what we have seen so far has barely scratched the surface.”
As ever, watch this space, but the positive was at least it was debated. The less positive was the response from DLUHC but as expected at this moment in time.