70% of parks in Wales expected to decline, report warns

Singleton Park Image copyright Bill Boaden/Geograph
Image caption Singleton Park's Education Garden in Swansea

Parks in Wales could see charges for services rise and a decline in standards unless local and national bodies find new ways to manage and pay for them, a report has warned.

The Heritage Lottery Fund says park managers expect further budget cuts, and a huge loss of skilled staff over the next three years.

Only the East Midlands and Northern Ireland expect higher funding cuts.

The HLF said a £37m investment in parks could be lost if nothing was done.

The State of UK Public Parks 2016 report said National Lottery money had helped improve parks' facilities and historic features, but that was under threat from decline and facility closures.

The report found park management would be more varied in future, with commercial opportunities and fundraising becoming necessary to maintain standards.

In Wales, 80% of councils anticipated budget cuts of 10% or more over the next three years, and 70% of parks were expected to be declining in the same period, the highest figure across the whole of the UK.

A total of 90% of councils expect to charge for services, while 60% want to raise money from events, and 40% from commercial enterprises.

Wales was expecting to see average revenue cuts of 22.2% over three years - only Northern Ireland and East Midlands were higher at 23%. The overall England figure was 15.9%, while Scotland was 10.3%.

The number of people using parks has risen over the past year, with 57% of adults across the UK going at least once a month (up 3%) - the figure rises to 90% among those with children under age five (up 7%).

Image copyright Gareth James/Geograph
Image caption Bute Park in Cardiff

The report cited Cardiff as an example of good collaboration, saying the city's parks budget had fallen by a third - £2.3m - over the past decade.

It found the parks service had been active in "creating alternative delivery models" for some services, in particular outdoor sport.

The report went on: "It is developing a more commercial approach in areas such as tree management, grounds maintenance and plant production.

"Strong relationships with park friends groups/community groups exist, which generated volunteer hours in excess of 25,000 in 2015-16."

It also praised Cardiff's People Programme, which has seen increases in apprenticeship and trainee schemes every year as well as work experience opportunities for school leavers, people with learning difficulties and long-term unemployed people.

HLF Wales head Richard Bellamy said: "Thousands of people across Wales visit their local public park daily. They are highly valued for the physical and emotional benefits they provide."

However he added: "These are financially challenging times and if we are to successfully halt the on-set of decline and avoid wasting this investment, we need to come together now to find innovative and sustainable models of funding and maintaining these highly valued community spaces."

A Welsh Government spokesman said local authorities were responsible for their own budgets but ministers had been able to provide "some protection" from UK government cuts since 2010.

He added: "There are many competing calls on local authority budgets.

"We would encourage councils to consider all the ways in which they can maintain funding for parks, including in collaboration with other local authorities and by working with partners and other organisations."

A spokesman for the Welsh Local Government Association said: "Local councils face an estimated £900m shortfall in their budgets by 2019 and unless we find a way of offering local councils more sustainable funding, then many of our most popular and cherished local public services may find themselves entering a spiral of decline."

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