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Tuesday, 28 August, 2001, 10:31 GMT 11:31 UK
Are Britain's parks in decline?
Many of Britain's traditional parks are in a "disgraceful condition", according to a new report.
An audit by the Policy Studies Institute revealed that fewer than one in five of all parks are in good condition, following 20 years of neglect.
The report concluded that 82% of people in the UK do not have access to "good parks and open spaces" and that a total of £3.5bn is needed to restore open spaces to their former glory.
Do you have access to a park in your area? Has the idea of the traditional urban park had its day? Which are your favourite parks?
This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The run down parks are a Thatcher-era legacy. I remember parks in the 60's being lovely. Recently I watched the movie "Blow Up" which features a park in East London. I know that park well and my goodness its declined since the date of the film - sometime in the 60's. The problem is the lack of a central body for all urban parks. It's odd that more is not done because I'm sure that creating beautiful urban spaces would be a vote winner. Finally, they need to bring back park-keepers. Remember those Derek Gyler-like characters?
I don't use my local park - what's the point when I have to spend the whole time looking down avoiding dog poo?
The last time I was in Liverpool was in 1980 and I paid a visit to Stanley Park. The last time I had visited there was in the early 60s when there was an outdoor swimming pool a boating lake and a floral clock. What a transition to find the pool gone, the lake drained and full of rubbish and not a park bench intact, graffiti everywhere. Obviously the Liverpool City Council didn't give a hoot and it was a reflection of local attitudes to what should be an asset to the Walton area of Liverpool, especially with both Everton and Liverpool's football stadiums close by and frequented by both national and international visitors.
The word "privatisation" needs to be mentioned here and the decline in our parks is sadly another example of this method of condemning public services to death. As an ex-parkie myself I (not due to cost cutting) I have seen some examples, even the so called Royal Parks of London are being "maintained" by private contractors . For example before privatisation Richmond park had about 40 to 45 permanent staff and I believe it now has between 5 to 10. To the "Old Gaurd" keeping the park was a matter of pride, to a contractor it is just another profit margin exercise. When the Royal Parks went "private" most of the equipment was auctioned off as well and not handed over or bought by the contractors. Parks should be considered public property and looked after as such, to be cared for and be proud of. But what does that mean these days?
Returning to the UK after living in the Canadian outback for several years, my daughter and I revelled in the London parks, like Hyde Park and St. James Park, but although we liked to go down to a local park Valentine's Park at Gants Hill near Ilford, we never felt as comfortable there as we had when I was a kid and often in that park. It seemed to be the hangout for a lot of "undesirables" and certainly I would not have felt comfortable letting my child roam around the park on her own, the way I had been able to 30 years earlier. Perhaps that's why parks are in a decline because the less salubrious members of our society have been allowed to take them over, driving families out.
We live in Michigan. It depends on the city plus the neighbourhood you live in. It also seems to depend on if the park is also used for festivals. But, on average most parks I have noticed in my limited travels are in fair to good condition over here. One question if I may, why don't governing units simply put aside a small amount of money into a fund and when it has grown large enough, simply use the interest and or dividends to fund the upkeep of the park systems? Simply spend all but 1 percent each year, letting the 1% fold back in so the fund grows to a point of self continuation.
Perhaps we should get away from the idea of "traditional parks" I live near a country park - which is very well used - Scotland's millennium cycle route goes through it - it is always full of cyclists and walkers. Anglers use the river, there are picnic areas, BBQ areas, adventure playground, much wildlife. The Countryside Rangers hold marvellous events all year round which are well attended, bat watches, mushroom walks, pond dipping. This park is well used by children and adults from all walks of life!
Over here in the US the local community and the city jointly maintain a lot of the local parks. It's a great idea that encourages pride in a neighbourhood and does cut down on the vandalism. It's great to see all the kids playing in a safe, clean park. There are free "poop scoops" and people do use them to clean up after their dogs. The idea of involving the community is so simple, and yet so few places in the UK actually do it. If we want things to be the way they were then we'll have to take care of it ourselves. Just because we're in the 21st century doesn't mean we can't have a few old fashioned ideas around. Get involved.
We have just moved to a house beside a park. We thought it would add quality to our lives. Instead, in the summer, the children's playground is taken over by young thugs. They use it as a centre for: under-age drinking, drug taking and glue sniffing. Our house has been vandalised many times in 18 months. Litter is rife and the council provide few litter bins. The park is never locked at night and we are often disturbed late into the night. The park is never patrolled and police refuse to police it. It is a safe haven for criminals. Youths often drive around it on motorbikes. Yet it could be a great asset to our London borough. Thank you so much London Borough of Havering. We would be better off living next to an eight lane motorway
In the borough of Merton, I have noticed a lot of parks that were once beautifully manicured and well tended, have now been left in a state of abandonment with the grass and bushes allowed to grow wild.
However, according to the local authorities, this isn't neglect, its now a "nature reserve"- any excuse!
Lets blame the property developers for the disappearing parks! If we loved our parks and playing fields so much, we would pay more council tax so that councils would not need to sell off land to developers in order to fund services. Additionally we would not buy houses that were built on former community open space. Unfortunately we are unlikely to do either as we have become far too selfish and too apathetic towards the concept of community. Our interest stops at the end of the garden path. As with everything in life, you get what you pay for.
The Blessed Saint Margaret, slashed and capped council budgets ruthlessly, and wanted everything to be run as a profit-making micro-economic concern. No more greater good; no more "big picture" economics. "Social provision" became an anathema. Even the word "social" was hijacked to be redefined in hearts and minds as "socialist" (and George Orwell probably turned in his grave mumbling, I told you so). There was even 'no such thing as society'-- just individuals doing it for themselves. Schools were allowed and encouraged to flog off playing fields to make up budget shortfalls. Councils sold graveyards to developers. 'New' Labour have done little to redress the obvious degradation, despite the UK's boast of having one of the world's wealthiest economies. So, why is anyone surprised about the state of our parks? Or the railways, or the schools, or the hospitals.. Have a mooch around European cities and towns.. Spot the difference?
As regards the unemployed being employed to clean up parks - who will pay them? Who will supply their tools and transport? Obviously not the council if they can't afford it.
The unemployed will certainly not work for free - how are they to find proper jobs if their days are spent toiling in parks?
I recently saw an elderly lady approach a fearsome looking young man with a dog and present him, on a plastic spade, with a turd which his dog had just left in her garden. If only more of us had the guts to challenge litter louts, owners of fouling dogs and other selfish individuals who ruin our open spaces then perhaps things would be better.
Ian Thomas, England
All my pals and I used to live in fear of 'parkie' when we were children. I now know how invaluable park keepers are, both for keeping these crucial urban open spaces clean and tidy and also for providing a visible presence of authority to make the park safe for all. Bring back 'parkie'
Parks in Japan are closer to "gardens" in size. It would be SO nice to have the space of a UK sized park here. As for Matt Leese, England's comment, wouldn't it be better to NOT litter or graffiti in the first place?? Not a revolutionary thought is it?
Philip Tunnell, Oman but my home is the UK
We have set-up a community group to look after our park.
It's very hard work and difficult to see any progress sometimes, but we have just started to
work with the local authority to make the park better and
spend money on it.
Community groups work to save these
important areas, but it is worth it.
Here in Melbourne we have great
parks - there is some vandalism but
the local councils definitely see
parks as an asset. Where my house
was in the UK midlands we had a 20
minute walk to the nearest park and
I used to tell my son to stay on the
path because the grass was so
fouled. About 5 years ago I visited
the park where I'd played as a
child in East London. It was
a wasteland and I didn't feel safe -
I certainly wouldn't let any child
of mine play there unaccompanied.
You need a certain number of people
to use a park regularly before it
feels safe. Park Keepers do make
Parks have changed in the past 10 to 20 years. As Tel from the UK said, parks used to be for climbing trees and playing football. Now, anywhere the council see a spare patch of grass they stick up a 'no ball games' sign. It's no wonder that all today's youth have to do is hang around in gangs.
Phil Nendick, UK
Parks today are a shame - a square of lawn isn't enough, and our cheap modern structures are just canvases for vandals.
A park should be something more, a mini-wilderness with rocky outcrops, forests, ponds and waterfalls, not just football pitches. That means we are going to need more park space, but rather than forcing people to drive to the edge of town, let's bring parks in to the people. When we pedestrianise our major cities, let's turn the old roads into parkland, surrounding offices and shops with greenery. And for once, when we knock down some block of decrepit buildings, let's not replace it with something even worse, but put a park there instead. It's time that our living environment was governed by more than just money.
Marther Adder, UK
I agree with Matt Lease, the unemployed should be "employed" doing work that councils should but cannot afford to do, such as picking up litter, graffiti removal and environmental improvements like park maintenance.
Once there were park keepers, who had "authority" to deal with vandals etc. Then parks were well kept and safe.
In my town, the park keepers were removed to keep costs down. Is it any wonder the park areas have declined?
How can 82% of the population be without access to open spaces and parks when half the population live in the countryside and most urban areas like London are famous for their parks?
Our local park was recently vandalised by a bunch of yobs hacking down trees with a chainsaw. They also wrecked a bridge over the stream making it unsafe for anyone to walk across it. If this is what happens in a so-called salubrious (meaning expensive) area then I dread to think what happens in "rough" areas.
Steve Bacon, Germany
My local park in Chesham is the biggest asset to the town, and does attract a large number of people. However the reality of the situation is that because of cuts in local government spending, there is no park keeper, which means that areas become no-go areas, particularly at night, due to gatherings of drug users and pushers, under age drinkers, and gangs of youths.
The short-sightedness of these policies means that when the cat's away, the mice will play. The situation is exactly the same with parking, because the local council also decided that there was no funds or need for a traffic wardens.
I remember when we used to have park keepers. They were scrapped, without any public consent, and the parks are now spoilt. Why do we constantly erode every social aspect of our society and think that nothing is worth spending money on?
I love my local parks! The my flat looks over a small park and it's nice to sit on the balcony and see the use it gets. There is a football match every night - even in the off season! Just across the road Southwark council and lottery money have made some great improvements to a huge park and they are restoring it to its Victorian glory.
However in other places where I have lived people tend to have houses with gardens, which does remove the need for public spaces, so the parks in these areas are left to crumble. The park where I grew up in Stoke-on-Trent is a hang out for drunks and junkies - how can people expect to enjoy these places?
It's ironic that the main stories on the news (after Nato in Macedonia) were the decline in public parks and then the plea to keep to young offenders out of prison. The latter action can only serve to make matters worse. I am fortunate to live close to the country, but even in our village the playing fields have been slashed in half to make way for "luxury" housing.
On a visit back to my home town of
Weymouth I was shocked to see that
the council have flattened my childhood play
park for an old folks home. Nice one
Weymouth Council. Now the children
can play in the roads instead. The
beach isn't much use in Winter!
One way of dramatically improving parks overnight would be to ban dogs.
Smoking is banned from public (enclosed) spaces. Dog mess is a lot more unpleasant and a serious health risk.
Humans can't defecate in parks; why should dogs be allowed to?
Will we get park keepers back to shout at the cyclists on the footpaths? Yes please.
We need to rebuild the respect for the small rules of society that make a more pleasant society (without, of course, sacrificing the enormous progress made in the last 20 years in other areas of life!)
I am all for preserving and maintaining the "open space" parks, but what annoys me most is the act of vandalism, kids etc ruining most of our pleasant countryside, i.e benches, walls, thus costing more due to repairs. Keep Britain tidy and beautiful!
I am surprised that you say Britain's parks have been in decline for 20 years. As far as I can see, they have been in decline for at least double that time. Most of Britain's public spaces are marked by an appalling sterility - badly tended wastelands of grass and not much else, points of focus neglected or removed. And why restore them to their former glory? The idea of parks should be reviewed, perhaps an entirely new outlook on landscaping is needed. Victorianism should be laid to rest.
In my town we have the largest council owned park in the country. Added to this a new riverside park has just opened and several smaller parks and play areas exist. The only problem about them is vandalism. The new park was attacked before it even opened! Parks and play areas need to be protected from the idiots who get their kicks from damaging property. It not only costs money but can be extremely dangerous to children (broken glass etc). The parks which are the most abused seem to be the least used, a bit of a chicken and egg problem which I believe can only be solved by CCTV and fines.
Tristan O'Dwyer, Leeds, UK
Well it's more important to install ugly traffic cameras, speed bumps and advertising boards than look after our parks according to local councils.
I remember when I was a kid me and my mates used to love going to the park, climbing trees and playing a spot of footie. Nowadays a park seems to be a boring blank piece of grass with a couple of benches and maybe a vandalised shelter.
I'm from Leeds which has the largest area of parkland per head of population in Europe and certainly find that living within a few minutes walk of 3 parks improves the quality of life. I think it's very important that we safeguard our parks and keep them in good condition, especially for our children.
Shaun Prior, Scotland
Wareham, Dorset recreation ground is a fantastic open space which is used by the local community. The facilities are in need of repair and replacement.
We have recently defeated an attempt by the Wareham Town Council to sell the recreation ground for development.
Parks used to be a green oasis in the suburban sprawl where solitude could be found, somewhere to walk the dog, chill out and generally watch the world go by. Now? Parks are symbolised by gangs hanging around after dark, broken benches, graffiti, vandalised plants, broken swings and roundabouts, litter and burnt out cars. Not a pretty sight and certainly not the kind of place I'd like to visit. Add to this the fact that our local council likes to build on our remaining parkland and it's not difficult to see that the lungs of our cities are now cancer-ridden and not getting the correct attention they deserve.
The unemployed should be "employed" doing work that councils should but can not afford to do, such as picking up litter, graffiti removal and environmental improvements like park maintenance. This would obviously improve Britain's parks but also give pride and encouragement to people unlucky enough to be out of work.
I am working in Frankfurt at the moment and the city parks - like all the civic institutions - are clean and well kept. Of course this may be because the Germans do not live by the modern British credo of "everything must make a profit" and are prepared to accept that a decent quality of life is worth paying for.
I can only comment about my local park, Central Park in Chelmsford. I visit most days in my lunch-break. It is well kept, clean (most often without dog mess) and popular with people of all ages. I think urban parks (and all public green spaces) are a vital part of any town or city and should definitely be kept and maintained.
I suggest that if the drunks and drug addicts/pushers are kept away then people might feel safe about using parks. Perhaps a return to the park keepers patrolling the spaces to keep order - although they will probably need to wear bullet proof vests and go round in twos nowadays!
23 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Neglected parks 'need £3.5bn'
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