Friday, 7 November 2014

Protect our Parks

National Federation of Parks and Green

Parks Federation meet with Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and call for Government action to protect green spaces and prevent UK parks' slide into crisis28.10.2014

On 27th October the National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces met up with Government Minister Eric Pickles MP, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Dave Morris, the Campaigns Officer of the Federation, was part of a deputation organised by the Protect Dundonald Rec Campaign, who've been leading a 4yr-long local community campaign, backed by thousands of supporters, to prevent the loss of public open space in their much-loved and well-used park in Merton, south London. The Minister was asked to exercise his powers to revoke a controversial Merton Council grant of a planning application to transfer some of the park's public facilities (including tennis courts) to a local school, in breach of local, regional and national planning policies. [Details below]. As this raises issues of national importance, the local deputation was supported by the Federation and also a representative of the Open Spaces Society. The local MP also attended in support. The Minister is expected to respond in a number of weeks.

Dave Morris explained to the Minister that the wider context of the planning dispute was the national 'slide into crisis' caused by the underfunding for maintenance and management of the UK's public green spaces. He presented to the Minister a copy of the Summer 2014 Report: 
The State of UK Public Parks 2014 – Renaissance to Risk?  He urged him to read it, and particularly drew attention to the highly relevant and alarming statistic revealed by the report that '45% of Local Authorities are considering either selling parks and green spaces or transfering their management to others’. Mr Morris pressed the Minister to support the Federation's calls for the Government to hold a National Inquiry into the funding and management of the UK’s green spaces, bring in a Statutory Duty to monitor and manage these spaces to Green Flag Award standard, and ensure adequate public resources for all green spaces. [See full Federation letter to the Minister, below].

Background to the Merton planning disputeThe Dundonald Campaigners say: ' The Merton planning application breaches all national, regional, and local planning policies which protect public open space and sports facilities. There is nothing in planning policy which can be used to justify these breaches. Agreed policy does not allow educational provision to override protection of public open space. Allowing this planning application to proceed would have major implications for public access to open space and sports facilities, so we are asking Eric Pickles to revoke the grant of planning permission. Failure to revoke would legitimise the breaches and undermines national policy.

' We have lost 2,578sqm of our local recreation ground, Dundonald Rec, because Merton Council wants to expand a local primary school by building on the site. This land is very well used for sport and recreation. It was originally protected by a covenant from 1896, but this has been overriden. The Local Authority has granted itself planning permission for the development (despite objections from over 2,000 local residents and users of the Rec) and then appropriated the land from recreational open space to educational use.

' Protect Dundonald Rec brought a legal challenge but we were unable to persuade the court that the Council had failed to follow the process. However, during the court hearing it became clear that the Council had misrepresented the status of the land to Sport England. Sport England had withdrawn its original objection to the scheme based on this information. If Sport England had continued to object to the loss of sports fields then the matter would have been referred to the Secretary of State. '

Letter to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local AuthoritiesFrom the National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces

We represent the ‘grass-roots’ movement of 5,000 local Friends of Parks Groups.

I am sure you are aware of the vital and unique role of the UK’s highly-popular and much-loved green spaces: they are central to our communities and to family life, vital for public health and happiness, and deliver a wide range of essential environmental services (biodiversity, flood control, urban climate cooling etc).

Please find enclosed a copy of the most important and authoritative report in 20 years about the UK’s public green spaces, published this summer: The State of UK Public Parks 2014 – Renaissance to Risk?Despite the Report’s cautious and understated approach it concludes that, due to ongoing reductions in maintenance and management budgets, the UK’s parks and green spaces are ‘at serious risk of slipping back into decline as they did in the 1970s and 1980s.’It also found that ‘45% of Local Authorities are considering either selling parks and green spaces or transferring their management to others’.This alarming statistic underlines the need for an urgent and effective Government response to the Dundonald case in order to provide protection to urban public green space.

However, as set out in the Report, the threats to public green spaces go much further and deeper, and require immediate strategic action to avert the looming crisis.

We are calling on the Government, especially the next Government in 2015, to:
-         Hold a National Inquiry into the funding and management of the UK’s green spaces
-         Bring in a Statutory Duty to monitor and manage these spaces to Green Flag Award standard
-         Ensure adequate public resources for all green spaces

As Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government we are asking you to support this, and to support the UK’s parks and green spaces.

Dave Morris
Campaigns Officer, National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces


Islington’s parks and green spaces are vital for everyone of all ages and every part of our community! They are an essential and unique provision promoting relaxation, recreation and play, wildlife and bio-diversity, green jobs and skills, heritage, flood control, health and social well-being, and community cohesion
However, because there is no statutory obligation for the council to fund them, there is growing alarm that the dramatic national cuts in local government funding could lead to serious long-term damage to parks. If not reversed, this will cause them to decline and become abandoned problem spaces plagued by vandalism
This threat must be halted. It's time for action, especially as the Islington Council budget for 2015-16 is now being discussed by councillors and will be finalised in January and February 2015.
The Islington Friends of Parks Forum asks individual friends of parks groups to follow this four point course of action.
1. Contact local ward councillors - many of whom were newly elected in May and some of whom may not live in the ward they represent - and invite them to visit your park. (Feel free to use our letter [point 3] as a basis if you wish.) Show them what the park has and what it might also provide in the future. Details of ward councillors can be found here 
You can find out which ward you are in by putting an appropriate postcode into   
2. Create a petition about your local park (possibly using the National Federation petition leaflet [below] as a starting point). Details of submitting a petition to Islington Council can be found at 
3. Support the Islington Friends of Parks Forum to lobby all Islington councillors by December. We will be sending the following letter to all councillors.
Dear Councillors,

The Islington Friends of Parks Forum call on all Islington councillors to pledge to maintain existing resources for the borough's parks and gardens when deciding priorities for the 2015/2016 Budget.

Here's why we believe it would be a cost effective, sensible as well as a popular thing to do:

It seems to us that Islington's wonderful and popular parks and green spaces might be under threat due to increasing funding constraints, as they are not a statutory obligation for Councils. Yet Islington's parks are an integral part of our "natural health service" and provide, at reasonable cost to the community, an unparalleled range of opportunities to help prevent and tackle major health concerns. This includes the need to reduce the worryingly high levels of mental health problems and obesity in the borough. Parks also provide a vital "green lung" for all of us in a borough which has a high percentage of homes without any open space of their own. It's not just our people who benefit from high quality parks but hard pressed wildlife can also find a home here on our doorsteps.

Reducing funding for maintenance and staffing would undermine the benefits we all gain from visiting parks. Reductions in funding during previous periods of public spending cuts led to an increase in vandalism; it took much Council time, energy and money to restore our parks and open spaces to their present high state. We believe Islington has the opportunity to show other local authorities the way forward by continuing to invest in our parks and green spaces - to maintain their high quality which has been built up over many years. It is money well spent.

The Islington Friends of Parks Forum would welcome the opportunity to meet with councillors to explain the case for maintaining the current level of spending and investment in our parks and green spaces.

Signed on behalf of Islington Friends of Parks Forum
4. Help the Islington Friends of Parks Forum plan to lobby candidates in the run-up to the 2015 General Election. 
Sign the 'Save Our Parks' UK petition: 
Save Our Parks petition leaflet 
Speak Out leaflet 
Standing Up for Green Spaces leaflet 
State of UK Parks report 2014, Heritage Lottery Fund

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