National Federation of Parks and Green Spaceswww.natfedparks.org.uk
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 crisis
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 dispute
The 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.
Campaigns Officer, National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces