As the last 12 months has emphatically underlined, London’s parks and public green spaces are unique and essential facilities for all sections of our communities - for people of all ages, backgrounds and interests. So much so, the Prime Minister had to publicly insist they be kept open during the pandemic for all to use.
These crucial spaces need proper maintenance, management and protection in order to serve Londoners’ needs. This only happens when they get the recognition and resources required. The ‘A More Natural Capital’ manifesto calls for the next Mayor of London to protect and invest in London’s green spaces for the benefit of nature and people.
Despite many fine parks, London does not have enough green spaces for its population size. And we are not making best use of what there is. That is why the manifesto is calling for the creation of new parks to reduce deficiency in access to green space which affects too many communities in London. CPRE London has identified eight areas which could benefit from this proposal and we urge Mayoral candidates to take action to make this ambitious vision a reality.
Too many of London’s green spaces are neglected, even as their benefits are becoming more apparent. Twenty years ago this summer, a group of us got together to discuss my own run-down local park - the largest in Tottenham - and its vandalised facilities, empty buildings and barely-used open spaces. The Friends of Lordship Rec was launched in a blaze of determination and enthusiasm to turn things around after years of neglect and lack of investment due to Government cuts to public services in the 1980s and ‘90s.
I am pleased to report that years of voluntary effort and partnership-working with Haringey Council’s Parks Service, backed by £4m of Lottery investment, has regenerated and transformed this key site. Its facilities have been restored and improved, its ‘footfall’ has trebled, and it is now a hub of community activity. In 2018 our success story even merited a major slot on BBC’s Countryfile.
On this journey we discovered that public green spaces across London - and indeed around the UK - have similar challenges. People have been setting up local Friends Groups throughout the capital - around 700 so far - to try to ensure their green spaces are in the condition they should be.
As a growing movement we soon realised that we needed to raise our community voices at every level to make a long-term difference. Groups set up borough Friends Forums, a London-wide Friends of Green Spaces Network (LFGN) and even a National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces (NFPGS), to share our experiences, combine our forces, and to call for the policies and resources needed. Over the past two years, LFGN has been working with CPRE London on a major project to promote our wonderful green spaces – you can find out more at www.goparks.london which is developing into valuable resource for all who care about and visit green spaces in the capital.
Meanwhile, successive Governments, especially over the last 10 years, have neglected their responsibilities to our crucial public services, choosing instead to make savage cuts to local authority budgets. These cuts have impacted on all services, but particularly on those which are ‘non-statutory’, those that Councils have no legal obligation to maintain. Incredibly, despite common sense and what most Londoners think, this applies to our local parks! As a result of this chronic underfunding from central Government and lack of statutory recognition, London’s green spaces are facing once again the serious and long-term threat of neglect, decline and even sell-offs.
Three years ago the NFPGS helped launch a Charter for Parks, now backed by 24 national bodies. This Charter calls on all levels of Government to:
We in the LFGN are proud to support the coalition for ‘A More Natural Capital’, and pleased that its manifesto calls for all the political parties to back the Charter for Parks. We call on all Londoners to put pressure on the candidates and their parties to sign up to the manifesto in general, and to this Charter in particular.
As my local Friends group prepares to celebrate our 20th anniversary, how can we make sure that London’s green spaces are guaranteed the resources they need for facilities and management for the next 20 years and beyond? It is up to all of us to speak out for the parks our communities deserve.
Dave Morris is Chair of London Friends of Green Spaces Network.
To read all the blogs in this series that explores the issues in the 'A More Natural Capital' manifesto, click here or visit our dedicated twitter feed @AMoreNaturalCap. You can also learn more about the leading candidates' stance on environmental issues at the Mayoral Environmental Debate on Monday 12 April.
The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.
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