A new report on the future of parks has called for a consultation on ways to address the UK parks funding gap in the face of municipal funding cuts.
The Charitable Giving to Parks and Green Space report, published by the University of Leeds, examines the role of charitable donations in making up the UK parks funding gap; which has been exacerbated in recent years by ongoing cuts to government funding. 90% of the park managers surveyed reported experiencing funding cuts in the last 10 years; charitable giving could theoretically help make up the deficit, but the report found that while a high percentage of the park users who responded supported voluntary donations to park funding in principle, relatively few would actually make such donations themselves.
The research was led by Dr Anna Barker of the School of Law at the University of Leeds. Dr Barker 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 research highlighted the Leeds Parks Fund as an exemplar method of addressing the UK parks funding gap. Funding for parks in Leeds has dropped by 50% since 2010; so municipal authorities have explored a range of ways to offset the drop in revenue, including generating funds through cafes and shops, holding events in local parks; and forming revenue generation partnerships with local groups, sports teams and volunteer organisations. Leeds City Council has partnered with Leeds Community Foundation and Leeds Parks and Green Spaces Forum to establish the Leeds Parks Fund, a platform which enables businesses and residents to mobilise funding and voluntary assistance towards the city’s parks.
Councillor Mohammed Rafique, Leeds City Council’s Executive Member for Environment and Active Lifestyles, said: “The research findings are of great interest to us [on the council]. As a partner in the Leeds Parks Fund initiative, they will help us maximise the potential of the fund – the first such scheme established in a UK core city – while at the same time acknowledging that a full, rounded parks and countryside service does come at a cost that must be supported by core funding.”