Why the government should be spending more on public spaces

Cuts to local authority budgets mean children are increasingly unable to enjoy green spaces in cities


Our urban parks will get extra use in the days after Christmas, as children ride their new bicycles and adults take exercise to counter their Christmas excesses. But the future of urban parks as attractive and well-used public spaces is under threat. Their future is endangered by cuts in public spending, and a preference for funding grandiose vanity projects.

The details of the local government spending settlement was announced last week. It was much as expected, after the chancellor’s autumn statement. But the reality is now clear, with the Local Government Association calculating that councils will have lost 64 per cent of their grant funding between 2010 and 2020. Already, many council leaders are preparing the public for further closures of children’s centres and libraries.

Sports, cultural and leisure services will fare particularly badly as they are seen as less essential and more of a luxury ‘add-on’ to more basic council services. Already, councils have cut much of expenditure on parks, leisure centres, sports provision, libraries and other arts and cultural activities. English local authorities spent £2.7 billion on cultural services in the last financial year, when any income for these services was taken into account. This compares with £3.7 billion in 2010-11.

Public parks are particularly at risk. Victorian philanthropy has left the UK a legacy of some of the greatest urban public parks. After two decades of neglect in the 1970s and 1980s, parks experienced a renaissance through funding from the Lottery and the growth of ‘pocket parks’ in housing regeneration projects.

Today, about 34 million people use public parks on a regular basis – nearly 60 per cent of the population – for a wide range of activities that include walking, picnics, sports and simply meeting friends. Some 83 per cent of families with children aged five or under visit a park at least once every month, far more than use children’s centres.

Parks help us to stay fit and healthy. An attractive public park also frames the character of an area, and brings different sectors of the community together, improving social cohesion.

Research undertaken last year by the Heritage Lottery Fund showed that extent of cuts since 2010. Some of the poorest councils have experienced cumulative cuts to park budgets that average out at 25 per cent between 2010-11 and 2013-14. Liverpool City Council, for example, cut 50 per cent off its park’s budget of £10 million.

Both capital and revenue spending on parks has been affected. But without adequate maintenance, parks become neglected, vandalised and unused. Many councils have put up charges for using park facilities, thus excluding those on lower incomes. Management and maintenance skills are being lost, and some parks and green spaces are also being sold off completely.

Arguably, a preference for high profile project has diverted public and private money away from local parks, leisure and cultural services. The planned Garden Bridge on the Thames will use £60 million of public money. A new symphony hall to replace the Barbican will cost about £300 million. While the Garden Bridge looks beautiful, the money might be better used on local parks both within and outside the capital.

There is a growing body of research that attempts to quantify the economic value of public parks, in relation to health, wellbeing, social cohesion and biodiversity. It shows that there is a return on investment in green space through reductions to obesity, depression and crime and improved air quality.

Those of us who are regular park users know of their value. But it is time that we stood up and made the case for public parks, both large and small. We need to tell central government about the importance of public green space in family lives. Without an active campaign for parks, their future is threatened and post-Christmas scenes of children on new bicycles may be a distant memory.

Jill Rutter is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

Like this article? Left Foot Forward relies on support from readers to sustain our progressive journalism. Can you become a supporter for £5 a month?

30 Responses to “Why the government should be spending more on public spaces”

  1. Brad JJ

    The parks are empty and ignored by kids. Maybe 5% use them.

    And consider. They are all dog toilets. Who wants to play where a thousand dogs shit daily? Admit the truth. Our parks have not been destroyed by government. They have been destroyed by dog owners.

  2. Jacko

    It’s called the real world, Ms Rutter, where difficult decisions have to made about how to allocate finite resources across a multitude of deserving areas. Writing an article about how valuable one of these areas is doesn’t change that simple reality.

  3. Brad JJ

    The parks are empty and ignored by kids. Maybe 5% use them.

    And consider. Our parks are dog toilets. Who wants to play where a thousand dogs shit and piss daily?

    You want to let your little kids frolic in the grass among the faecal matter of dogs? Admit the truth. Our parks have not been destroyed by government. They have been destroyed by dog owners.

  4. Cole

    Total nonsense. The parks in .london are in pretty good nick and very well used.

    I imagine the Tories would like to sell them off and convert them into car parks or whatever – as they tried to do with our forests.

  5. Cole

    Or Osborne just dumping his cuts on local councils – so he can give more tax cuts to the people who pay for the Tory Party.

  6. Brad JJ

    Try checking out parks in towns. Of course the parks in London are used. Many have dog-free areas. London is grossly overpopulated so it seems that the parks are VERY WELL USED when less than 1% of the population use them, You need to get real.

    If you want to reclaim the parks and get folk with little kids to use them then get the fucking dogs off 90% of them and create restricted dog runs. At the moment the little kids are restricted to tiny play areas while the dogs are shitting everywhere.


    Brad are a concrete over anything that is static kind of fellow. A Tory wanted to tar the rail tracks.

  8. Brad JJ

    You wilfully misunderstand me. I want the parks returned to the people. People with little kids do not take them to play in the shit covered dog toilets we call parks. They keep them in their restricted fenced off play areas.

    I know Rochester, Reading, York and Bath well. In all these places the playing fields in parks and the garden areas of parks are swarming with dogs shitting everywhere.

    Dog areas should be restricted to dog runs and they should not be walked over playing fields or other grassed areas used by children or people playing sport. The local rugby pitches where I live have to be checked for dog shit before they play.

  9. Sid

    Labour still looking for the magic money tree.


    Its not the dugs fault they have to shit somewhere. It is the owners fault as they should lift the shite.

  11. Brad JJ

    And you think that is fine to put an infant down to play on grass from which hundreds of pieces of dog shit are removed (PARTIALLY) daily? Grass which is pissed on hundreds of times daily?You would do that? With your child?


    I would find a clear space and put down a tartan blanket.

  13. Brad JJ

    Your plan is to take your little one to a wide open space then restrict their movement to a blanket? You are an idiot. In areas fenced off where there are no dogs (as one time in the central areas of Peckham Rye Park) little children could run around in all weathers and play on the grass. not now. Every c u n t with a pit bull on a string is shitting all over the place.


    Is a dug not entitled to the same space to shit and run around ?

  15. Brad JJ

    NO. They should be restricted to runs as they were in many places in the past. Look – you do not get it. Go play with your dog.


    I do not have a dug but weans shite as often as dugs and the mother cleans up.

  17. JC

    Brad …..you are right but with a strong sprinkling of exaggeration !!! I live in London and my local parks are full at weekends . Yes sometime irresponsible dog owners dont pick up ….but most do respect the law . We need to work to make sure children , adults , sports people, dog owners and cyclists respect each others need and make sure that these important areas are invested in .

  18. jc

    parks are important to keep us healthy , they should not be seen assets not cash cows . By keeping us healthy both physically and socially they are saving NHS bill . Same with swimming pools , We need to invest more in them to get a return for society.

  19. jc

    Brad you are right zoning and children areas with NO dogs is a good idea as on Clapham Common . We need to try harder to ensure dog owners are more responsible .

  20. jc

    Thank you for an excellent post on an important issue . We must start not only to count the cost of parks but begin to count the benefits in terms o health and well being . Also engaging community groups into the management of the parks , for example new and energetic movement for community gardening is transforming litter filled areas which can fallen derelict into productive inviting corners where community can come together meet , learn new skills , and produce seasonal veg or flowers . We need to be inclusive and creative when it comes to thinking about how to manage this great Victorian legacy . As we have seen with recent floods, soils , grass and trees and water soak aways are critical to helping us to manage water .

  21. AlwaysIntegrity

    OK, but the problem is that this just adds to the ever lengthening list of things that people writing here want to spend more money ( which means taxing more or borrowing more or printing money ) on. Nobody ever wants to spend less or suggests where the money might come from or suggests other areas of expenditure that might be reduced. Is this all the ‘leftfootforward’ thinks government is there for, spending more? Are there no priorities? Suggestions for spending less? I can easily come up with long lists for spending more, but I reflect that the pot, however large, will always be limited and not large enough for everything, I can’t simply have everything, how about some prioritisation!

  22. dnspncr

    The “real world”? You really are a pathetic little man aren’t you Jacko… please enlighten us, what do you believe is the “real word”? This should be good for a laugh, go on Jacko; The “real world”, explain.

  23. jj

    Umm, its actually the same for woods and fields, think of all the cow pop and bird pooh. To not let your kid run riot now and again and be concerned about ‘health and safety’ is bad, kids should build their immunity up.

  24. jj

    To save money my local conservative council have stopped planting excessively expensive begonias and pansies, option for wildfloer seeds instead. Better for wildlife, looks nicer, cheaper and lass longer, no maintainance needed. Why complain? Tough times, tough measures.

  25. jj

    Animals of all types piss everywhere daily, if its not dogs, its birds or cows or squirrels and cats. Circle of life, no problems.

  26. madasafish

    When they don’t understand basic economics, what can you expect?

  27. Intolerant_Liberal

    Yes, the real world. The Tories seem very good at spending finite resources on wealthy and affluent areas and giving the already wealthy and affluent wage rises and tax breaks, and equally very good at taking those finite resources off those who are already struggling. It’s exactly like the 30s again. Selfishness, fed by hatred and contempt of the poor, fuelled by a compliant and complicit media and making politics the preserve of the middle class and the very wealthy. So no working classes are heard anywhere. And a Labour party that has sold the working classes down the river…

  28. Intolerant_Liberal

    Quite right, too! Tartan has magic properties that only now we are beginning to see.

  29. TheLyniezian

    That’s a little unfair given the fact the article does go into the economic benefits of parks. What could be said more about is whether the investment could come from some source other than government- not just lottery funding, could private or corporate philanhropy, sponsorship (albeit that means de facto annoying advertising) &c. be used to help fund the maintenance of parks, perhaps? Perhaps give them over to charitable trusts to run? Who knows…

Leave a Reply