Sheffield Council has been called upon to draw up a new strategic plan setting out how parks can be managed to ‘maximise their contribution’ to promoting healthy lifestyles, tackling social exclusion and fending off floods.
Authorities across the country were urged to create the blueprints in a report by Parliament’s Communities and Local Government committee, as part of an inquiry into the future of the UK’s parks.
Clive Betts, the Sheffield South East MP who chairs the committee, said parks were ‘treasured public assets’, but added: “They are at a tipping point.”
He continued: “If we are to prevent a period of decline with potentially severe consequences then action must be taken.
“Parks make vital contributions to physical and mental health and bring significant community benefits. They also contribute to biodiversity and climate change mitigation and can assist in local economic growth. We call on everyone who cares about parks to be our eyes and ears on the ground and keep up the pressure on national and local government.”
The report called on central government to provide leadership, while suggesting local organisations that make frequent use of parks – such as Parkrun – should be encouraged to volunteer time for maintenance or fundraising activities.
A ‘fundamental’ change in the way sites are managed and funded is needed, the document said.
Housing pressures and cuts to parks management budgets of up to 97 per cent have left them struggling to compete with other services for money.
In its submission to the inquiry, Sheffield Council warned MPs that park services ‘continue to face a major challenges’ and there are ‘no easy answers’.
Two years ago the council teamed up with the National Trust to explore new ways of paying for and maintaining parks by setting up an endowment fund and charitable body.
However, the scheme was not taken forward because of the risks involved, such as finding money for the endowment and transferring the freehold of Sheffield’s parks to a new organisation.
Mr Betts said his committee will review progress before the end of this Parliament.