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Crisis looms for England's green spaces

Posted on 20 March 2015

The future of England’s parks and green spaces needs to be a key issue in the general election, according to a new report from the Fabian Society. Highlighting their vital role they play in bringing people together, it calls for a new focus from national and local government in protecting parks and open space.
‘Places To Be: Green spaces for active citizenship’ by Ed Wallis shows that, in the last parliament, English local authority spending on open spaces fell by 14 per cent – around £15.5m.¹ And Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) analysis of the last Autumn Statement projects further real terms cuts of around 44% to unprotected government departments, including local government. With councils fast running out of money for non-statutory services, open space spending is set to be even further stretched.

Cuts on this scale will need all levels of government to take a new role. The report recommends that Natural England should be reformed to lead the co-ordination of green infrastructure across government and ensure that its wide social, economic and environmental benefits are recognised by all departments.

In order to mitigate against this decline, ‘Places To Be’ calls for local authorities to establish Green Partnership Boards to bring together representatives of the business community, community and voluntary groups, and activists in a co-ordinated approach to managing the local environment. Recognising the economic and health benefits of green spaces, it calls for Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and Health and Wellbeing Boards to take more of a role in parks and green spaces.

And the report calls for new approaches to engage citizens in community life by building on early efforts in community organising. It also calls for communities to learn from the example of parish councils and asset trusts established to rebuild community spirit and ensure the continued viability of green space.

Ed Wallis, author of ‘Places to Be’ said:

“The next five years are crunch time for Britain’s green spaces – and nobody has seemed to notice.

“Local authorities have done what they can to protect open spaces over the last parliament. But with spending on unprotected departments like DCLG likely to be cut dramatically in the next five years, they will be in the firing line.

“Identities and communities are formed in the places we live. Our parks and woodlands are where people walk their dogs, greet their neighbours, play with their children and connect with nature; they are where we go to take exercise or take time to reflect. They have demonstrable benefits on health, economic and educational outcomes. They must not be lightly cast aside.

“We need to support people to do more for the places they care about. Local councils need to do things differently and find new and innovative ways of co-ordinating services and central government needs to give clearer leadership and organise itself better if we are to achieve this ambition”

Download the report



Notes to editors

1Figure excludes spending by National Parks

Contact: Richard Speight, Media and Communications Manager at the Fabian Society
0207 227 4906 / 07794 307840 /

The report proposes seven principles that should guide thinking on embedding democratic green spaces. They are:

Local difference must be respected: outstanding examples of innovation respond to specific local circumstance and characteristics 
But isolated examples of innovation need coordination: we need ways to scale up individual examples of good practice that are applicable elsewhere
The public character of green space must be preserved: this does not preclude private sector involvement, but means it must be consistent with a strong public ethos. New developments should increase the size of the public realm and access to green space, not diminish it
Equality of access: public space must not be the preserve of the affluent, and reform must prioritise the engagement of underrepresented groups
Developing a shared civic vision: we should seek to rekindle the civic identity that created the parks
Participation and citizen control: enabling people to take control of their own green spaces can build community spirit and respond to budget pressures
Prevention: the health benefits of access to green spaces are well established and should be promoted at a time when local government has public health responsibility

The Fabian Society is Britain’s oldest political think tank. Founded in 1884, the Society is at the forefront of developing political ideas and public policy on the left. The society is alone among think tanks in being a democratically-constituted membership organisation, with almost 7,000 members. It is constitutionally affiliated to the Labour Party.

This research is supported by Groundwork, Keep Britain Tidy, RSPB and the Woodland Trust.