In our latest staff blog Fields in Trust's Policy Manager, Alison McCann, looks ahead to Monday's Budget statement and the importance of supporting parks and green spaces to achieve multiple policy agendas.
The approach of the UK Government's Budget statement will, as always, generate calls for resources to be allocated for many competing causes and concerns. At Fields in Trust we would argue that funding the UK's parks and green spaces would be positive and efficient way to contribute to several social policy agendas.
A helpful briefing paper from the House of Commons Library sets out the budget context and what areas we might expect Chancellor Philip Hammond to cover. As the briefing paper identifies, the "end of austerity" and an increase in public services has been signalled by comments in Prime Minister Theresa May's Party Conference speech - intensifying the bids for renewed investment. We know health spending is a government priority with additional funding for the NHS announced in June, but several other areas of public expenditure have also been the subject of vigorous calls from outside government for additional investment - not least the campaign to "Save our Parks" which has been running in the Mail on Sunday over the last month. There have also been calls this week from a consortium of 120 children's organisations for the government to stop "ignoring children" and to put them at the heart of spending plans. We know that a significant proportion of regular park and green space users are accompanied by dependent children.
Even if the restraint on public expenditure does relax there are difficult choices to be made about competing investment decisions. If more money is to be made available for public services, we believe that it would be financially efficient to channel this investment into social infrastructure that supports the preventative health agenda and reduces the need for more expensive and intensive interventions further down the track. Recent research from NPI indicates that councils are actually having to shift funding away from preventative agendas because of the 'quiet crisis', whereas we know that is not a cost-effective decision in the long term. Our Research quantifies that parks and green space save the NHS £111 million every year because regular park users are healthier and therefore don't visit their GP so often - that cost saving would not be possible if parks and green spaces are less available to the public.
Our Revaluing Parks and Green Spaces research was cited in the Mail on Sunday's campaign launch and also in the response to the campaign by James Brokenshire MP, Secretary of State at the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government. Our research findings demonstrate that the provision of parks and green spaces, rather than being a drain on local authority finances, actually contributes benefits to local communities and individuals a total of £34 billion per year in health and wellbeing benefits.
Whilst we know that physical health and mental wellbeing are improved in those who regularly access parks and green spaces, further issues of social policy have also recently emphasised the value of civic spaces - such as parks. For example the Government's Loneliness Strategy was recently published under the guidance of Minister for Sport and Civil Society, Tracey Crouch MP. It identifies that the Government recognises "the value of public parks and green spaces, helping them bring together communities now and in the future". This is already being studied by researchers at the University of Sheffield and provides another example of the way parks are used, not just for play, sport and keeping fit, but as a civic space to meet and interact with others - helping to build a "Connected Society". The strategy recognises a need to rebalance an inequity of provision, "ensuring that new developments include accessible green spaces and that any area with little or no green space can be improved for the benefit of the community".
Inclusion in the Loneliness Strategy follows another recent reference to the value of parks and green spaces which were identified as important by Government in their Civil Society Strategy. This report states that the Parks Action Group (of which Fields in Trust is a member) will be "working collaboratively to identify how valuable shared community spaces can be protected and improved to provide important areas of social mixing, positive health outcomes, educational and training opportunities and encourage business investment."
Taken together this presents an extensive list of work that the UK's much-loved parks and green spaces are attempting to deliver for Government: improving physical and mental health; tackling loneliness; addressing childhood obesity; delivering volunteer opportunities and providing civic spaces for community events. All at a time when the challenges facing the owners and managers of our parks and green spaces are greater than they have ever been before.
As arguably the most universal of our public services, we believe that parks and green spaces are good, do good, and should be protected for good - with adequate funding commensurate with the community benefits they deliver.
Alison McCann is Fields in Trust Policy Manager. She can be contacted by any of the below means.
t: 020 7427 2128
Alison McCann is Fields in Trust's Policy Manager. Having worked for the organisation for the last six years, Alison's current role focuses on research about the value of green space to better inform policy making, as well as overseeing the legal support function for sites protected with Fields in Trust. Alison led the commissioning, data analysis and report production for Fields in Trust's Revaluing Parks and Green Spaces research published in May 2018. Alison previously worked in Sports Development for two London Boroughs, managing projects with a range of stakeholders and community groups.