Public parks: securing a sustainable future A report by the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee

“We're the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee. We scrutinise the policy, administration and spending of the Department for Communities and Local Government.

We have been looking into how to secure a sustainable future for parks. We're grateful to everyone who has taken part in our inquiry. Your views have helped shape our recommendations to the Government."

Clive Betts MP

Chair, Communities and Local Government Committee

During our inquiry, which gathered evidence between July and December 2016, we have considered three main questions:

  • Why do parks matter?
  • What challenges are facing the parks sector?
  • How can we secure a sustainable future for parks?

You can read our full report and all of the evidence on our website. This summary page provides an overview of our conclusions and recommendations.

Who took part in our inquiry?

We wanted to hear from as many people as possible about what they thought about parks, so we gathered evidence in lots of different ways:

You can read all of the evidence on our website.

Why do parks matter?

The Heritage Lottery Fund’s State of UK Public Parks 2016 report found that three quarters of local authority park managers had reported increases in visitor numbers over the past three years.

Different parks play different roles in their communities, and people use different parks in different ways. Our survey found that the top twenty uses selected from a list were:

The roles of parks include:

  • places for children and young people to play, learn, and be with friends and family;
  • enhancing physical and mental health and wellbeing, including encouraging physical exercise and activity;
  • encouraging and enabling more active forms of travel, like walking or cycling;
  • building a sense of community, encouraging integration, and reducing social isolation;
  • providing habitats for wildlife, increasing biodiversity, and giving people in urban areas access to nature;
  • contributing to sustainable growth and the local economy;
  • forming part of sustainable urban drainage systems to mitigate the impact of flooding;
  • improving air quality and reducing pollution;
  • absorbing noise; and
  • combating the Urban Heat Island effect (the higher temperatures in towns and cities as a result of overheating caused by buildings and roads, exacerbated by the properties of urban building materials and a lack of moisture).

We believe that parks are a treasured public asset, which are greatly valued by their communities. They help to bring communities together, and should remain freely accessible to everyone.

Traditional ways of assessing the value of parks focuses on the value of the land or the costs associated with maintaining parks.

We believe that thinking differently about how to assess the value of parks and their broader contribution could help local authorities access alternative funding sources and target investment more effectively.

However, the models which are emerging to do this are complicated. We have recommended that the Minister makes supporting the development of robust and accessible models which local authorities can use to assess the value of their parks a priority.

What challenges are facing the parks sector?

Competing demands and tensions between user groups

Parks are community assets which are freely available to everyone. That can result in tensions between competing demands and preferences.

We believe that local authorities need to take into account the needs of all of their residents, and engage effectively to understand needs and explain their decisions. Sometimes, it may be appropriate for local authorities to grant exclusive access to a park or a part of a park, whether on a temporary or a permanent basis, to particular user groups or organisations. Equally, sometimes it may be appropriate to charge for some uses of a park, especially when parks are used by commercial ventures as part of their business models. However, such exclusive use or charging must not disproportionately affect or hinder access to the park for other uses.

We have recommended that local authorities should consult on, and publish, policies the criteria up which they make decisions about exclusive access and charging.

We believe that it may sometimes be appropriate for local authorities to seek non-financial contributions from some park users to the upkeep and maintenance of parks and green spaces. For example community activities which do not charge members for participation or raise revenue, such as parkrun, might nonetheless be encouraged to contribute volunteer time for park maintenance or fund-raising activities.

The impact of budget reductions

We’ve heard a lot of concerns about the impact of budget reductions on parks, including:

  • closure or downgrading of park facilities;
  • deteriorating maintenance standards;
  • reduced service levels or parks programmes;
  • prioritisation of one park over another;
  • increased antisocial behaviour, litter, vandalism and crime;
  • loss of staff capacity, skills and expertise affecting the quality of parks maintenance and local authorities’ ability to build relationships with the community or to respond quickly to issues;
  • reduced ability to apply for Green Flag status.

The evidence we’ve heard shows how strongly people feel about their parks, and how concerned people are about the effect of budget reductions. We share their concerns about the potential decline of our parks and green spaces. We know that the actions taken by local authorities and communities have protected parks against the budget reductions in the short term, but that might not be sustainable.

To protect parks in the future, local authorities must continue to support and build relationships with volunteers and community groups. To help this, and avoid groups coming into competition with each other over increasingly scarce financial resources, local authorities need to think about their parks as a portfolio.

We welcome the growth of parks forums, in which friends and community groups come together to share resources and ideas. We believe these forums will improve coordination, and make the way that local authorities work with their communities more efficient. We have recommended that local authorities support the development of forums, and work with them to assess needs and prioritise resources.

It is vital that out parks are safe places for our communities to enjoy. Local authorities must make safety a priority, especially in children’s play areas. We have recommended that the Minister monitors accidents in parks, identifies any patterns, and works with the relevant local authorities to address problems.

We believe that local authorities need to make sure when they’re designing new parks, or new features in existing parks, that they plan from the outset for the money which will be required for maintenance in the future.

Unequal access to parks and green spaces

The most affluent 20 per cent of wards in England have five times the amount of green space as the most deprived 10 per cent.

Parks and green spaces are vital to national strategic issues such as obesity, flooding and climate change. We are concerned, therefore, that parks and green spaces are unequally distributed across England, and that not everyone can benefit from the advantages of access to them.

We have recommended that the Minister reports annually to Parliament on whether equality of access to high quality parks and green spaces for deprived communities is improving, and that where it is not, the Minister should work with local authorities to improve access.

Green infrastructure

Green infrastructure is a network made up of green spaces and other environmental features. It delivers ecological services to the communities it serves. It includes green spaces such as gardens, woodland, river and canal banks, roadside verges and allotments.

Parks are not interchangeable with green infrastructure. For example, we believe there are important leisure and health benefits which other types of green infrastructure can’t deliver. However, we think that seeing parks as one element of wider green infrastructure networks may be helpful to parks and to raising the profile of other types of green infrastructure.

We think that the importance of parks and green infrastructure needs to be properly recognised in planning policy, local authorities’ Local Plans, and in the Government’s 25-year Environment Plan, and have made recommendations to the Minister on how to achieve this.

How can we secure a sustainable future for parks?

Innovation and alternative approaches

Different local authorities are trying different ways to manage and fund their parks and green spaces. All of the evidence we have received about the different approaches is available on our website, and we have recommended that the Minister, the Local Government Association, and local authorities look carefully at the evidence.

We think that it is important that however parks are managed, there are proper arrangements in place to make sure they are accountable to local people. We have recommended that the Minister issues guidance to local authorities on the key principles, for example how local people should be involved in decisions about their local parks.

Changing the way that services are delivered can be expensive in the short term, and can come across unexpected challenges. We have recommended that the Minister works with local authorities who are looking at different ways of doing things, and helps them to access transitional funding or specific expertise to deal with the issues that come up.

We know that there is a lot of work being done by local authorities across the country to develop different ways to manage and fund parks. We want to see the Minister help local authorities to evaluate what they are doing, and share the learning with each other.

A statutory duty to provide and maintain parks

Many people suggested that parks would be given higher priority and more funding if local authorities had a legal duty to provide and maintain them. We understand that the pressures on budgets can mean that non-statutory services can lose out, but we are concerned that a duty to provide and maintain would be very complicated and burdensome.

We have recommended that the Minister should issue very clear guidance to local authorities that they should work with Health and Wellbeing Boards to prepare joint parks and green space strategies. The strategies would raise the profile of parks, encourage different parts of the local authority to work together more effectively, and make it easier access alternative funding sources by demonstrating how parks contribute to wider local authority responsibilities, including leisure, health, the local economy, climate change mitigation and biodiversity.

Leadership and coordination

We heard about things that had happened in the last few years to improve coordination in the parks sector, including the setting up of the Parks Alliance and the National Federation of Parks and Greenspaces, the National Trust’s Future Parks project, and Nesta’s Rethinking Parks programme.

However, many people told us that there was a lack of leadership in the parks sector, and not enough was happening to share best practice.

We welcome the Minister’s confirmation that there isn’t enough coordination, and his intention to set up a cross-departmental group to consider our recommendations.

We want to see this group have an ongoing role in providing coordination and leadership in the parks sector, and have recommended that when he responds to our report, the Minister provides details about who will be part of the group, what it will do, and how it will work with the parks sector. We have suggested that it should set up an online information hub and develop options for regional or national forums for parks managers.

What will happen next?

Now that we have published our report, the Government’s Department for Communities and Local Government has two months to respond. We’ll publish the response on our website.

We have agreed that we will look at parks again before the end of this Parliament in 2020. In the meantime, we have recommended that the Minister’s cross-departmental group should publish annual written statements on its activity, and the progress made to implement our recommendations.

You can follow the inquiry, and our other work, on Twitter at @CommonsCLG, or contact us at


We are grateful to everyone who has contributed to our inquiry by taking part in our survey, submitting written evidence, giving oral evidence, or by contributing to our #myparkmatters hashtag. We would particularly like to thank the following contributors to our Twitter hashtag for kindly allowing us to use their photos on this page (from top to bottom):

Created By
House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee


@TreehouseCIC, @CWParkman, @dianykno, @biscuitcatcher, @FieldsInTrust, @GroundworkSY, @lizixer, @LiverpoolParks, @CWParkman, @TreehouseCIC, @anthonybeyga31, @cse_bristol, @marplewebsite, @TreehouseCIC, @BandMasta, @cse_bristol, @Sam_theexplorer, @ParksSheffield, @SouthAshford, @TreehouseCIC

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