London's Parks Slide Towards Privatisation

Spending on open spaces has fallen by 18 percent in four years

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London Councils

London Councils

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Funding to support the community groups and volunteers that have been vital to maintaining London’s green spaces in recent years is under threat, according to London Councils.

Following the government’s recent in-year cuts announcement, London Councils which represents London’s 32 boroughs and the City of London is warning councils may soon be unable to support these groups sufficiently to prevent a slide towards privately-run parks in the capital by the end of the decade.

Council budgets have been cut by 47 per cent in real terms since 2010. Across London local government and among senior figures in the sector there are fears that parks may be approaching a tipping point. In the past four years London boroughs’ spending on open spaces, allowing for inflation, has fallen by 18 per cent – with a drop of more than 10 per cent in 2014/15 alone.

Cllr Julian Bell, Chair of London Councils’ Transport and Environment Committee, said: “London’s parks are at a crossroads and we cannot continue as we have in the past – the money simply isn’t there. If we pass the tipping point communities risk losing control of parks, along with democratic accountability for the open spaces that they value so much.

“London boroughs face increasing financial pressure and the strain is showing on the resources available for parks, leisure and sports facilities. The current climate of austerity does not suggest the situation will improve.

“By harnessing the time and expertise community groups offer, boroughs have been able to continue caring for these precious areas of green space for relaxation and play, not to mention the health benefits they offer.

“There is doubt about whether or not councils will be able to support these groups as boroughs divert what money they have to meet statutory responsibilities such as adult social care and elderly care."

Lambeth Council supports the Streatham Common Co-operative (SCCoop), which has more than 300 members and took over the Rookery area earlier this year.

Richard Payne, chair of the SCCoop board of directors, said: “The cuts are a huge challenge for anyone running an open space. SCCoop has much lower overheads than a typical provider as we have a pool of volunteers to draw on, but even so the level of cuts that are planned will challenge us and it is hard to see how all services can be maintained.

“Lambeth Council’s Co-operative Parks Programme provided us with a £20,000 budget – this crucial funding enabled us to establish the business by hiring staff and making the initial capital expenditure ahead of taking on services in the Rookery more formally with the council from March 2015.

 “We wanted to see Streatham Common managed in a more locally-accountable and efficient way, offer better facilities for the community and provide opportunities for more employment, volunteering and partnerships."

June 24, 2015

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