Why parks matter?

Paul Rabbittsin Parks & Gardens

A statement from the Parks Management Forum to the Prime Minister

Dear Prime Minister, Ministers and Members of Parliament,

Why Parks Matter? The Statement from The Parks Management Forum

The Parks Management Forum represents individuals and organisations working in the public parks and open spaces sector, whether in the public, private or third sector.

Today we write to you to ask for your support and to bring a greater appreciation of the value of parks and open spaces and the vital role they play for our communities, and in particular how they can play a key role in the recovery after the Covid-19 pandemic.

In March 2020, the lives of our communities were affected like no other time in recent history with the global impact of Covid-19. People were encouraged to use their local parks as they became the only area of respite from the tough restrictions imposed by the lockdown. Now as the gradual relaxing of restrictions are taking place, the use of parks and open spaces continues to be encouraged as places to meet people safely, take exercise and maintain our health and well-being.

The evidence indicating the value of parks and green spaces is overwhelming. The Parks Management Forum is now urging all MPs, Local Authorities and Government Departments to support the following recommendations:

  • Ring-fence appropriate funding to protect, enhance and sustain parks and green infrastructure services for future generations;
  • Acknowledge the success of local authorities and all other relevant organisations in managing public parks and open spaces during the COVID19 lockdown and the widespread public affection for them;
  • Recognise the important role parks and open spaces had during the pandemic and will have in the ongoing recovery process, with likely greater usage, and in the health and well-being, socio-economic and environmental agendas and allocate emergency funding to support this role;
  • Support nature recovery plans as part of the Environment Bill; and
  • Encourage all local authorities to adopt a Green Infrastructure or Green Spaces Strategy, underpinning the value of parks and open spaces for public health, regeneration and well-being, social equity, biodiversity and climate change resilience.

Creating a Sustainable Green future (the evidence)

New mobility data shows that Britons are flocking to parks to socialise and exercise. There has been a 136% increase in the amount of people gathering in parks when compared to a baseline figure prior to lockdown, according to Google's mobility data. The Government's daily briefing on 30 May 2020 also referred to this trend. There are 27,000 parks and open spaces nationwide and they can all play a part in the recovery after the height of the pandemic. This increase is almost certainly likely to bring continued greater usage.

The Government Public Parks Inquiry in 2017 emphasised that the future of public parks was at a tipping point. The State of UK Public Parks reports (2014 and 2016) gave the clearest picture of the sector for some time. They reported that maintenance budgets were still being reduced, capital was less available for improvements and park facilities were becoming more expensive to manage.

Today, the parks and open space sector could face an even greater challenge with further austerity as a distinct possibility and a deep recession looming. Now with a recognised, and in many instances, rediscovered important key role in society, there are incredible opportunities to embrace the important role our parks and open spaces have during the recovery phase. The Fields in Trust publication 'Revaluing Parks and Green Spaces - Measuring their economic and wellbeing value to individuals' is a great baseline on how parks and open spaces can contribute not only to health and well-being, reducing health inequality but also to the financial recovery.

This research was conducted in line with HM Treasury best practice for valuing non-market goods, using two valuation methodologies: Contingent Valuation (stated preference to elicit an individual's Willingness to Pay) and Wellbeing Valuation (subjective wellbeing assigning equivalent monetary values to life satisfaction survey responses); and additional analysis to quantify partial health cost savings to the Exchequer.

The key findings:

  • Parks and green spaces are estimated to save the NHS around £111 million per year based solely on a reduction in GP visits ( we do not account additional savings to the NHS associated with reductions in prescribing or referrals);
  • An individual would need to be compensated by £974 a year to replace the life satisfaction they would have gained from using their local park or green space (more than once per month); and
  • Aggregated across the UK an estimated £34.2 billion worth of wellbeing benefits per year are delivered by frequent use of parks and green spaces.

As a group, we are engaging with practitioners and the whole sector to ensure that parks and open spaces meet the 21st century challenges around health, climate change and nature recovery. In particular, we are keen to collaborate with the wide range of organisations working for similar aims and help government meet their own policy challenges at scale. As John Ruskin was quoted, "The measure of any great civilization is in its cities, and the measure of a city's greatness is to be found in the quality of its public spaces, its parks and squares".

We are passionate about the importance of our parks and green spaces. COVID-19 has highlighted what we already knew - how valued parks and local green spaces are by our communities. It is time to start reinvesting in this green infrastructure to secure it for future generations and your support is paramount in helping us to do this.

We hope that you will support our recommendations and work with us to reposition the importance of parks and open spaces as valued community assets and that deserves a better recognition and protection moving forward.

Thanking you in anticipation.

Yours sincerely

Paul Rabbitts MLA FRSA

Chair- The Parks Management Forum