One topic that always captures Alpha Rail’s interest is the debate about the future of our public parks and outdoor spaces and how they will be funded. As a manufacturer of metal railings and gates, you would probably say we have a vested interest because this has been our lifeblood for over thirty years!
This is indeed true, but this is not the only reason we want to save our parks. Public parks and gardens offer massive benefits to society in terms of social, physical and mental health and wellbeing.
Parks and gardens are where we take exercise, walk the dog, browse the flora and fauna or just simply sit, relax and contemplate life. They are also vital for the survival of the greenery and the wildlife that live there and support our eco system.
Alpha Rail has been very proud to supply metal railings and gates for the regeneration, restoration and maintenance of many of the UK’s much loved public parks, many of which have won awards. Our projects have included the Royal Parks in London, including Hyde Park and Westminster Gardens as well as prestigious parks further afield such as Beacon Park in Lichfield which was opened by the Princess Royal, Middleton Park in Leeds, Forest Recreation Ground in Nottingham, and the Queens Jubliee Gardens on the banks of the Thames which was opened to mark the Diamond Jubilee.
For these reasons we are always very interested in the on-going debate that seems to affect every public park and garden and how we can find a solution to the overarching question:
How will their existence be funded going forward?
Some of the latest thinking around the future of our parks include the Rethinking Parks programme and Heritage Lottery Fund’s State of UK Public Parks research report from 2014. The HLF report found that nearly half of UK councils are considering selling off or otherwise disposing of the management of green spaces under their control.
Other more recent developments have included public consultations whereby local councils have surveyed the views of residents in order to establish their strategic priorities and whilst the feedback is very clear that public demand for parks is at a record high, councils still face huge cuts to spending.
Clearly public funding will become under increasing pressure and it’s all too easy to overlook the social benefits of a green space when the funding choice is between ensuring a vulnerable person gets the social care they need versus providing park funding so that we all have a nice place to sit in the sun!
Many experts are predicting that over the next twenty years many of these green spaces will be taken over for building and other commercial projects as we attempt to house, feed and entertain our expanding population.
To help solve this conundrum a trial recently took place whereby eleven UK parks received a share of £1m in grant funding and specialist support to explore new ways of raising income or reducing costs. Models tested included greater use of herbaceous and wild meadow planting, public donations, mobilising volunteers and friends groups to help with maintenance and even the creation of pop-up meeting spaces.
Other possible new funding models being tried include “park improvement districts”, endowment funds and living legacies, as well as council tax rebates for volunteers and cash-back schemes for communities that manage their own green spaces. It will also look at private sector investment and partnerships. Many parks now host revenue generating events such as outdoor concerts, farmers markets, summer fayres, but these take a huge amount of support to organise.
Just from writing this article, it is very clear that there is no silver bullet to tackling this issue – we all need to care passionately enough about saving our landscapes and make more of a conscious effort to help maintain them.
Alpha Rail believe this means the public, local authorities and those involved in the horticulture, landscape and building professions being more joined up in their thinking and planning.
We’re not suggesting for one minute that we should insight protests and picket lines, but we should all gather round and ensure voices are heard in a co-ordinated, well organised and structured manner if our parks are to saved.
Admittedly much of this would have to be done on a voluntary basis in support of government bodies and there are a number of organisations trying to do this such as the “Friends of” park groups and the Parks Alliance.
The Parks Alliance was established in 2013 by 40 key sector executives from across the UK to provide a single unified voice for parks and green spaces and to address the serious funding crisis in the sector, but it too is reliant of volunteer support.
In their most recent newsletter The Parks Alliance announced that it will soon bringnews of a project it has established that will provide a model for establishing a wider connected community network of those who support the aims of the Alliance. We welcome this concept and look forward to hearing more!
Whatever the above project reveals and aims to achieve, one thing is very clear. The threat to the future of our parks is real, its happening now, and we need to work together to find a solution as to how their maintenance will be funded in the future.
This may well require (it almost certainly will) a process to transfer the onus and accountability for maintaining parks into alternative structures, which may also require for a transfer of ownership.
Quite how exactly this could work needs urgent discussion at the highest level before we end up living in a concrete jungle!
There have been a few successful examples where this has happened already – but there needs to be more of them and this requires a definitive plan in order for it to happen quickly enough such that the developers and planners are prevented from building on these important outdoor green spaces.
I doubt any of us want to see the disappearance of our public parks – it’s vital we all step up to ensure that the reason for their closure is not down to our apathy and lack of professionalism.
You can find out more and show your support for the Parks Alliance by visiting the parks alliance website.
Tags: metal railingsparks and public spaces