Research asks "Who should pay for our parks?"

A new report by Dr Anna Barker and Dr Jose Pina-Sánchez has called for a national debate on who should pay for the UK’s much-loved public parks and green spaces.

It asks whether charitable donations can or should help to fill the funding gap to secure the future of parks, amid ongoing government and municipal cuts.

Three quarters of the population are due to visit their local park at least once a fortnight during the summer.

The new report, Charitable Giving to Parks and Green Spaces, comes at a time of increased concern about the future of public parks, with more than 90% of park managers having experienced funding cuts in the past decade.

In its major inquiry into the future of public parks, the House of Commons Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee concluded that Britain’s 27,000 urbans parks are at a “tipping point” and threatened with decline, which would lead to “severe consequences” for their “vital contribution to many of our most important strategic objectives, such a climate change mitigation, public health and community integration”.

Local authorities have no statutory duty to provide and maintain public parks.

Dr Anna Barker, who led the research said: “Public parks are vital features of our towns and cities that provide numerous benefits for people, communities and the environment.

“But park managers require new and diverse sources of external income if parks are to survive ongoing cuts, a lack of statutory protection, and no cross-funding from other public services that benefit from the contribution parks make to wellbeing, notably health.

“In this context, many local authorities are beginning to work with charitable partners to establish voluntary donation initiatives to help maintain and improve parks.

“There needs to be an informed public debate on the funding of parks, including the role of charitable giving and the urgent need for donations if parks are to survive deep cuts. Charitable giving should not be a substitute for local authority funding.”

The report formed part of a national Rethinking Parks programme. Findings were based on surveys carried out with 1,434 park users and 141 business leaders who were asked about their attitude towards charitable giving (among other funding options) to parks in Leeds. In addition, 45 business and civic participants took part in focus groups and in-depth interviews.

Report authors argue that charitable donation initiatives are operating in the context of a long-standing belief that parks are a public service, managed by local authorities and funded through taxation.

“Despite high levels of support for the principle of voluntary donations to add value to parks, we found that a much lower percentage of park users and business leaders reported that they would donate to parks themselves,” they wrote.

Further information

The report, Charitable Giving to Parks and Green Spaces, by Dr Anna Barker and Dr Jose Pina-Sánchez, both from the School of Law at the University of Leeds, is launched today and available from the Leeds Parks Fund website.

For media interviews, contact University of Leeds Media Relations Manager Gareth Dant on +44(0)113 343 3996 or email g.j.dant@leeds.ac.uk.