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We are concerned that public parks are increasingly threatened by commercial activities and that the government’s response to the House of Commons’ Communities and Local Government Select Committee report into the future of parks and green spaces does not adequately address this.
The society had argued to the committee that it should recommend a statutory duty on local authorities to provide, monitor, manage and maintain parks and open spaces. When the committee declined to adopt this recommendation, the society called on the government to go further and impose such a duty.
The society is concerned about the increase in the number of events being held in parks and the adverse impact these have on local communities. While government has agreed that local authorities should consult their communities on charging for specific events and exclusive use of a park, there is no onus on the authorities to do this, or to heed the objections of local people.
Many parks being used exclusively for commercial events against the wishes of local people. For instance, last July, Lambeth Council’s planning committee gave blanket approval to a 110-day schedule of music festivals and other events on the 35-hectare half of Clapham Common it owns. We have seen threats to Acton Green Common, Ealing; Finsbury Park, Haringey; Victoria Park, Tower Hamlets; Heaton Park, Manchester; Gosforth Park, Newcastle upon Tyne and Mayflower Park, Southampton, to name a few.
Unless the authorities are given a statutory duty to consult communities and act on their advice, as part of a wider duty to care for the parks in the public interest, we fear that the pressure to raise funds from the parks will take priority. The result is that the views of those people who enjoy the parks for quiet recreation are overruled.
We hope that the government’s new expert group, the Parks Action Group, will address this crucial issue.
While we are pleased that government has pledged £500,000 funding to kickstart the group’s work, we suspect this will not be sufficient. And while we are delighted that government recognises the importance of parks for their environmental qualities and people’s health and well-being, there must be a boost to local authorities’ funding to ensure that parks fulfil their vital purpose for the community.